Monday, June 7, 2010

Bad memory

I read a riveting neuroscience blog called The Frontal Cortex at (Yeah, you heard me. Riveting.) A recent post called "Memory is Fiction" discusses the mutability and unreliability of memory in a way that is quite depressing.

Evidence exists that the more often you remember something the more inaccurate the memory becomes. Apparently it gets trimmed down, embellished up, worked over, and plowed under the soil of other memories, and you really can't trust it as well as you wish you could. Was I really going to a church quilting day when I heard of the Challenger disaster? Was I really standing is line to eat lunch in 7th grade when the PA system began broadcasting radio coverage of the Kennedy assassination? (Did I really eat a whole bag of potato chips every time I babysat for the Kirchbergers?) Studies that have asked for these vivid kinds of memories to be recalled immediately and a long time after the events they recall show that it all really breaks down something awful. And yet, much as I love studies, and Science, there is a level on which I really can't believe this is true. Memory is sacred.

But I wonder if the science isn't a case for reunions and hanging out occasionally with old friends you never see and don't think you have a lot in common with anymore. Just going over the old stuff you did that made you who you are, and getting their take on it all seems worthwhile.

My little sister often "reminds" me that I went to bat for her when she was arguing with mom over the right to wear nylons to school in junior high. Believe me, this was once not only fashionable, but essential to avoid being a fashion pariah. Really, it was. She says I told mom to please not make her go through what I had gone through in my 7th and 8th grade years (when mom's position was firm--nylons were expensive and stupid). I used the quotes around "reminds" above because I don't actually remember doing this. But I'm glad to know it. It makes me look like a good big sister, and that makes me happy. And if she didn't "remind" me, I wouldn't know it.

I think the unreliability of memory is also, obviously, a case for writing things down fresh, in an indelible format. Like blogging (snicker) or a real paper journal.

Visit, write. Beat those unfaithful neurons!