The Myth of Memory

“Neo, you’ve been living in a dream world.”



There was a time when I held the belief that I possessed total recall. I took a bit of pride in recalling all kinds of things. I remain a hoarder of vast stores of useless information. But I no longer completely trust my memories. And neither should you. Countless studies have shown that both short and long term memories can be altered with ease.

Like the idea that the Earth is flat, our believes about memory appear simple and obvious. They are not. We like the myth that our memories work the way do in the film Inside Out. There is a vast library where all of our memories are stored. This idea is reinforced when we can’t think of the name of that one actor…only to have the name pop into our head later. Clearly that info was stored somewhere and our file clerk spent that time searching the stacks. But that kind of info is simple. Situational memories are hard.

In my life, the great before and after moments happened when I was 12 years old. That year I had a pretty serious head injury. Learned how to juggle. Took an amazing trip to Southern California. Decided I wanted to be a writer. Had a rapid and painful growth spurt that left my body covered with stretch marks. And became an avid reader of science fiction.

I remember small flashes of each of these events. They all live in isolation. I have no idea what order they happened it. I have proof that they did, in fact, happen in the form of scars, skills, and collaborating testimony from others who were there at the time. But like other events I recall, my family remembers the details diffrently.

To lessor or greater degrees, these memories of things don’t matter. The part of Inside Out where they toss all the useless memories out makes sense. When I think about learning to juggle I recall that it took three weeks, I practiced every day, and I mastered the three ball cascade pattern. In the end, all that matters is I can still juggle. Thinking about this time brings up nothing at all about what I ate, what I watched on tv, what I learned in school, etc. But I have told the story of how I learned to juggle many times.

And that seems to be the key to memory. We remember the stories we tell. Whether they happened or not doesn’t seem to matter.

Mothers are particularly fond of telling stores they are sure you will remember, which of course, you won’t. Which only encourages them to offer more details, none of which you remember. This goes on until you nod and agree or they finally realized they were thinking of someone else.

The problem with memories being illusions is that we tend to think of ourselves as being made up of our memories. We are all constructs.

These are my truths, myths, recollections, and reconstructions. It’s all good.


Jon Herrera

Jon Herrera

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.
Jon Herrera

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Writer, Photographer, Blogger.

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