Most of this web site looks at how and what we remember. It often shows that the mechanism of remembering remains a mystery, and that exactly what we recall can be a surprise – even to us.
Memories are malleable and constantly changing, never exactly the same as last time. The main insight we derive from the writings of Marcel Proust is that our first memory is the only legitimate one. Every memory after that is an attempt to recapture the previous memory.
Another category on this site, which contains links to articles on impediments to memory, provides reasons for much of this; still another, on false memories, examines the consequences. Our thoughts can be derailed by physical, psychological, or environmental factors. What other family members recall can affect what and how we remember. A clever adversary can make us think we remember what we in fact do not.
There is a unique pressure and tension when recalling memories while being interrogated by the police or testifying under oath in court. In most circumstances, the consequences of fudging details are trivial; they are far more serious when our own fate, or that of others, is at stake.
The legal system seems to ignore the fact that memories change over time. It assumes that memories will be accurate and dependable and recalled in good faith. However, witnesses or principals in a court case can be influenced by the haze of time, as well as by interrogators with an agenda, who can change what people think they remember and later plant doubts in the minds of listeners as to whether what is recalled is true.
This aspect of memory may be of interest to memoir writers, as marginally relevant to their craft as it may sometimes be. Because justice can be served only in relation to the past, law courts want to know exactly what happened. In memoir, on the other hand, the focus is on what writers remember, and not necessarily on facts. If memories are false and fuzzy, the consequences are rarely as serious or life altering as in court.
To me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the whole subject.
What memories are made of
There is truth and there is Truth, what we believe to have happened to us and what might have been evident to an objective observer. When we act on the basis of our beliefs and memories, we are perpetuating “facts” that may have no basis outside our own minds. The significance of that observation is an open question, and it depends on much more than objective reality.
Can eyewitnesses create memories?
We create memories all the time, filling in the past because our brains were busy doing something else at crucial moments.
Even people with super recall tripped up by false memories, study finds
Evidence that, where memory is concerned, we are all human, equally liable to make mistakes.
The seven sins of memory
There are several ways our memory can mislead us. This essay enumerates seven of the ways and shows how we can become aware of them.
Wife’s recovered memory disrupts marriage
Our past can be a Pandora’s Box, even if we don’t always remember why.
Malleability of memory plays out in new thriller
This psychological novel plays with what we remember, how we remember, and the possibility that there is more, or less, to our memories than we imagine.
You must remember this
A whimsical look at memory overload. Interesting slide show at the end of the article.
Why your memory sucks (and what you can do about it)
There are many factors that twist how we view the past. Unfortunately, “what you can do about it” does not include fixing it.
NOPD Taser case tests difference between lying and faulty memory
Maybe some day the courts will have a way of proving whose word should be accepted when people differ, but that day is far in the future. Accepting the word of a law officer over somebody who has been convicted of a crime is not always the right choice.
Trust your memory? Maybe you shouldn’t
We are rarely aware of the factors that make us remember or forget. As a result, our memories are capricious and do not necessarily reflect what actually happened to us. We may unconsciously fabricate memories, and other people can manipulate them.