Pieces of Light
Pieces of Light: How the Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts by Charles Fennyhough came out in 2012. Can you remember the first time you did something? Not all of us do remember. The truth is memories are not solid possessions like in Harry Potter.
There are several types of memories. There is Semantic Memory for Facts and Episodic Memory for Events. Declarative Memory is memory accessible to consciousness while Implicit Memory is unconscious memory. Memory is also is divided into short term or working memory and long term or stored memories. Memory is a form of knowledge with a disputed status that servers the self as much as it serves the truth.
Memories in which the remember-er appears as an objective observer are common. They are called observer memories. These are distinguished from typical first person point of view field memories.
Not everyone knows when they are lost. And when they know it, they may not always admit it. Getting lost is a telling kind of amnesia, as it turns out. It has to do with Egocentric Direction vs. Allocentric coding.
Smell is known to bring up feelings and cause involuntary memories. Music also can invoke strong memories in people.
So the reason we forget our early childhoods cannot be because a baby’s brain is too immature to do any remembering. Other capacities need to be in place. They have to have the words to describe the memories. Memories also must be tied to the sense of self and they must have the ability to recreate the world in which they live in. Children do often have pre-three memories, but the old they get, the more the likely they are to forget these pre-three events. We do seem to have limited access to our pre-verbal memories.
Remembering anything depends on the process of encoding. People are more likely to remember the meaning of the conversation rather than the actual words or even the style of syntax. We have two kinds of memory 1) I remember that and 2) I DON’T recognize that. We have to know what we don’t know.
Toddlers are not amnesiacs. The problem is that they are not sufficiently skilled at organizing their autobiographical knowledge. Memories are not like DVDs that get played back. Memories are constructions made in the present moment of remembering. They are not direct lines to the events themselves.
Parental efforts to manipulate children’s memories can be successful. Siblings can will battle over who has the most truthful and accurate memory of their shared past. Some siblings actually recall an event that happened to their brother or sister as happening to them instead. And sometimes they recall a memory and misplace it onto a brother or sister when it happened to them. Memories merge into other memories.
Memories can be believed, non-believed and believed but not remembered. Memories can be disowned or rejected if they are too negative or too painful. People may remember something that happened to them, but consciously not believe it. Other people will believe that something happened to them when it didn’t. False memories are easy to believe. They are often more real than real.
So how can one tell what is real and what isn’t? Often real memories will be longer, more detailed and contain more references to cognitive process than implanted or false memories. The line between imagination and memory is a fine line. Many people will swear up and down that something they dreamed or thought actually happened, when, in fact, it did not.
There have been cases of those patients with brain damage who cannot convert any new short term memories into long term ones. One woman had herpes simplex attack her brain and left her with a condition similar to the famous HM. Life-logging or video taping everything all day everyday seems to help patients with this type of memory loss though.
The opposite of Antro-grade Amnesia is a sort of Deja Vecu. It is a false sense of familiarity with things. A patient constantly believes that he’s seen a TV program that is new. He believes the song he hears is a cover of an older song and that he’s heard it all before when it really is a new song.
PTSD has been studied a great deal. Emotions can do really strange things to our memories, twisting and distorting them. Painful memories are often a great deal more vivid than our neutral ones. However, only 8% of trauma victims suffer from actual PTSD. They suffer nightmares and intrusive flashbulb like memories. Sometimes these memories can be wrong, but trauma is still the same. Forgetting is not a solution to PTSD though. Filling in the gaps and remembering things correctly is the best solution.
Scientists claim that Google and the internet have affected everyone’s collective memory. We no longer rely on our own brains to remember things as it is so easy to look it up all the time. There is debate on had good or bad this particular affect is.
Memory, scientists have found, is not just located in one part of the brain. They have found that many parts of the brain work together to create and recreate memories. From the olfactory bulb to the prefrontal cortex to thalamus to the hippocampus to the Amygdala, memory is a multi-area endeavor.
“Memory has its own special kind of truth,” says author Rushdie and perhaps he is right. For often what we remember is not necessarily the facts, but our version of them. Memory is, more than anything, the narrative that we tell ourselves and others about our life. It is a story not some memorization of a sequence of specific dates and events.