Thursday, June 28, 2007

...the problem with remembering

Have you met people who after the end of an argument or fight somehow convince you that it was actually you that was in the wrong. They leave you doubting the entire event and how it unfolded. You look at them and you can see that it's not an act and this is how they remember it and you end up doubting the veracity of your own memory...


Memory plays such a huge role in our lives in what we feel about people, in how we react to situations, in our decisions. In fact memory is what decides the entire course of our lives. We put so much stock in what we 'remember' but what proof do we have that what we remember of the past is really all that correct???


When we remember it’s not happening in real time, there is no direct sensory information that we are processing so it's different from perception, and we are not inventing so it’s not imagination because what we remember presumably did take place at some time....


The scary part is that memory is something that has such a capacity to be inherently faulty... because it is always something that happens in the past. After all... aren’t we actually bending time, sort of time traveling when we remember – going back and recollecting. What is to say that everything we bring back is just how it happened? What is there to say that our emotions have not added to our memory what might not have been there before? As proved by the phrase, 'absence makes the heart fonder', and as experienced by couples who have broken up and after some time seem to forget how bad it really was and so get back together...only to realize how wrong they had been... and it really was worse!!!


When we remember ‘how bad’ it hurt we are not remembering the actual pain what we are remembering is actually thinking how bad it hurt. And I know this because just a month after I had moved here I got hit by a car while crossing the road and broke 5 of my bones. I ‘remember’ how agonizing and unending the pain was but do I actually remember it? I mean I can recollect the horror and the essence of the experience but not the sensations.

Thank God for that!!!!


When we meet someone who has injured us in some way and they act as if it never happened, what if they actually did forget about it and indeed it didn't happen at least for them. I know many narcissistic personalities, who only remember the wrong done to them but never what they have done and when you hear them describe some account of a grievance you’re blown away by how sincere and truthful they appear… how totally they believe in everything they are saying, when you know for sure that was not how it happened. I know that at times during such confrontations I’ve been so bewildered that I actually questioned the validity of my memory…perhaps it was me who was the wrong one...


John Locke actually bases our entire sense of self and identity on the continuity of memory. According to him a person who remembers nothing of his or her past literally has no identity!!



... the problem with 'remembering' is best described in the following line....

"The palest ink is better than the best memory"
- Chinese Proverb

20 comments:

Blur Ting said...

Gee, you're so right! My ex was like that. I would start an argument knowing I was 100% right but always ended up totally deflated and being made to feel I was the one in the wrong. All becos he was argumentative and domineering! It was impossible to win, I simply gave up.

So sorry to hear about the accident and broken bones. The funny thing about physical pain is...you only experience it at that very moment. When the pain is gone, you don't remember it anymore. Childbirth is like that. When a woman is giving birth, she swears she'll never do it again. Then she is pregnant again!

Bush Mackel said...

@Blur Ting - I actually remember Dr. Drew saying at one point that there's a decided mechanism in child birth that blocks the remembering of the pain for women. Because if women remembered it, they'd never have children again.

And yeah, memory is a funny thing. I've always believed I have a bad memory, and so I generally trust it as far as I can throw it which I think helps a lot. Don't get me wrong, I don't discount it completely, but not 100%.

Besides, this way when I see someone from a long time ago, I don't lock myself in as far as how they should or shouldn't act and I give them a chance to show me how they've changed (for better or worse).

Random Magus said...

Blur ting: I read that about childbirth as well...
I know people who actually believe an entirely different account of a fight...its scary because you can see they are not pretending yet what they are saying is totally opposite to what you remember

bush mackel: So actually your belief in your memory being bad is something pretty good for you because it lets you meet people without preconceptions

Katie McKenna said...

This is a very timely post. I appreciate your sharing.

When I gave birth ( at home ) to my first it was very painful. Yet I remember my second being a breeze ( the only pain was having to stop in the middle of our poker game). Sometimes the unknown is more intense and colours the memories.

However, I know that person you were talking about... lol.. and it is mind boggling that they even take over other people's experiences as their own!

Epimenides said...

Apparently our brain has some sort of filter that tends to weaken the bad memories to reduce stress.

Michelle said...

Excellent and very true.

What also always amazes me is court cases where years later they expect witneeeses to remember exact details. How much is fact and how much is memory altered and adjusted by our own subjectivity?

Makes you think about history books too. :-\

Random Magus said...

Katie McKenna:
Hi Katie...I know a couple of such people and the funny thing is that they are very close to me or rather they consider me a very close friend...at first I used to try to correct the sequence of events which they would describe incorrectly or try to remind them of things they had conveniently forgotten...now I just ignore...what they don't understand is that I can never completely trust them, so they'll always think we are closer than we actually are....

Epimenides:
That I think is gift... imagine if we every time we remembered something painful we'd experience it in its totality... that thought scares the the hell out of me

Michelle:
I know and that's really scary but history anyway is always written by the victor's historians

meleah rebeccah said...

I have the worst memory. Thats why I have to write everything down, and record, video, photograph everything and everyone. (but, who's to say that my memory / perception of things is correct)

However, my memory is quite clear on the child birth pain, THUS I HAVE NO MORE KIDS!!

HollyGL said...

I do feel I remember things clearly, but do I? People only remember events and situations based on the filter through which they experience them, and everyone's "filter" is different. Its shaped by their life history, mind-set at the time of the event, what they had for breakfast -- whatever...

There are aspects that can be determined such as time of day and location, but even those can be subject to debate.

What a great topic, Random. I could go around in circles on this one - obviously... :)

Random Magus said...

meleah rebeccah:
I have a terrible memory too and there are some moments from my childhood that I don't have any recollection of... childbirth..haven't been through that but would love to have a kid !

HollyGL:
What a great comment...you're so right if our 'filter' is different so will be our entire recollection because after the event has happened we would process it before putting it away and then when we do remember the entire event will be coloured by that...

Titania Starlight said...

My ex was big on twisting facts and blaming me for everything. He as in the military so he knew the psychological mind games. It was sick. Glad he is my ex!

Great post. Very interesting.

QUASAR9 said...

interesting Random,
even in a discussion
where too people are reacting to each other's words

Often the argument is not about what was actually SAID, but what one side or the other thought was meant.

As for memory, we take it for granted that we are intelligent beings, and therefore aware of what is going on ... but aside from the pain could you recall the accident the actual 'incident'

And clearly the driver will have a different perspective or point of view of what happened.

Of course we are talking about being lucid and wide awake, add to that a few drinks or being under the influence, and two people bumping into each other in a Club, will have totally different memory or recall of what happened.

And, ...
when we are trying to be intimate with a person, are we not trying to share an experience, more than just get under each other's skin, we are trying to get into each other's heads.

I'm all for Vulcan Mind Melds
though still with the opposite sex.

Random Magus said...

Titania: The ones who twist your own words are the worse coz they do it so cleverly that you end up having nothing to say for yourself. It's a horrid feeling

Quasar9: About the accident I was looking the other way - it was a two way street and on the orange line I was looking at the traffic coming from the opposite side - this guy overtook a van and hit me so unfortunately I never saw it coming...but would love to remember..very neurotic...and I'm sure in his memory i was the stupid girl looking in the opposite direction, without remembering that I was looking where I was supposed to.
Getting into someone's head is the sexiest yet most frustrating experience...that actually is what at least to me constitutes the first stages of a mad infatuation...

Josie Two Shoes said...

I know this experience so well, Amber! I went thru it many times with my ex, his version of what ocurred between us, or what he had told me, what completely different from mine. Yet he was so self-asssured that, like you, I ended up doubting myself and my memory. Now I'm not sure which one of us was the crazy... maybe both! :-) Time does change our perspective of situations, just like in my post of last night. I can view those ocurrances now somewhat dispassionately, though at the time they were critical events. I guess that is good, otherwise we would constantly be on emotional overload. But as you note, it is important we remember when things were really bad, so we don't repeat the same mistakes again. I would never go back to my ex, because even though I have forgiven him I will remember how it was.

Josie Two Shoes said...

BTW, what a horrible way to start out a new adventure in life... with an accident and five broken bones! I'm glad you can't really remember that pain, it had to be horrible.

insanity-suits-me said...

What an interesting post. I'm in the middle of reading "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert and he discusses memory and why it's not an exact science. He points out that the brain cannot store every single memory day after day, year after year, so it takes millions of snapshots - recording sounds, smells, tastes, etc. In other words it stores the highlights of an event. Later when we want to recall the experience, our brains retrieve the bulk of the information and let the imagination fill in the blanks - which could account for why people recall the same event differently. Apparently it happens so fast that we have the illusion that the entire thing was in our heads the entire time. He calls it the filling in trick. Am I making any sense???LOL

Jeff said...

Good post. I have often thought about this concept. Memories are so fragile and can be molded like clay. When the molding is habitual, the memory actually changes what we consider facts. Who knows what really happens in any of our lives the second that happening is over. Fascinating, but scary.

Random Magus said...

Josie two-shoes: It's easy to forgt the degree of pain once its over - be it physical or mental - I gguess in some ways that's necessary for our survival

Insanity suits me: That really sounds fascinating..I am going to try to get this book

Jeff: I sometimes think this too...sort of scary. Imagine if what we thought was the happiest day of our life wasn't that great actually

Katie McKenna said...

You are right! When people "steal" our memories by claiming them as their own, or by totally rewriting the script, one has to question what is really going on in their brain..
cheers!

Random Magus said...

Kate: I know a couple of people like that and to this date I haven't been able to figure them out. It's insanely scary how sure they are of the version of facts in their head which you know to be false