Sunday, 8 July 2012

Photographic memory

It was our wedding anniversary recently and my better half and I were trying to remember the hotel in Aberporth where we spent our honeymoon. We remember the honeymoon itself quite well, the places we visited, the things we did. Getting sunburned on the beach and having to spend the rest of the week covered up – we remember all that.

But we don’t remember the hotel. It was on a hill and lots of things on the evening menu were charged extra, but that’s all we remember.

Interesting though, is the fact that most of our memories are linked with a photo or two. In most cases we have photographs of the places we visited or connected with what we did. Not everything we did obviously.

Anyhow, it led me to ponder what exactly we are remembering in such cases. Are we remembering the photographs rather than the actual events? Are the photographs more than mnemonics – do they partly take over from the original memories? Do we anchor various strands of memory to the photographs such that one becomes indistinguishable from the other?

If we had taken one or two photographs of the hotel, then I’m sure we’d have remembered it, so what does that tell us about our memories? Does it tell us we have simply not had enough memory refreshers to keep the memory of the hotel alive? Or does it tell us our memories of the hotel would have faded anyway and the photographs would have taken their place as pseudo memories.

Obviously if we’d ever been back to Aberporth and that unremembered hotel, then we would have refreshed our memories. Now I very much doubt if we could find the place even if we wanted to.


WitteringsfromWitney said...

Well, belated congratulations on your wedding anniversary to you both!

As to memory lapses, I take refuge in the factor of age........

A K Haart said...

Witterings - thank you, but does memory lapse or does it just become crowded?

I prefer to think... hang on, what was I talking about?

Sam Vega said...

Interesting ideas. As the past literally does not exist, all that we have are the memories: something doing we know not what, presumably in the brain. These are obviously subject to alteration by what else happens there. I'm sure that frequently thinking of and recalling our memories radically alters them. My "earliest memory", for example, is now overlaid with so many attempts to recall and elucidate and communicate it that it bears the same relationship to the actual event as Lenin's waxwork corpse does to the living man.

Italo Calvino's brilliant book "Invisible Cities" deals with this quite a lot:

"Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased".

What I find intriguing is the potency of smells in recalling memories. Why should this be the case, I wonder?

James Higham said...

Memory can be a dangerous thing. I find myself thinking back to past loves and that's a nowhere situation because it keeps one in the past. Much as it hurts, we probably need to be planning for our future and be stuck in the future. In my case anyway - others may do it differently.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I've just download Invisible Cities onto my Kindle.

As for the potency of smells, I'me not sure what it is but it may be very primitive. Wax polish, cut grass, and rain after a long dry spell - there are lots of them aren't there?

James - I tend to agree, but the past is so alluring isn't it? Safe too, because what can happen has happened. It can't get worse, unlike the future.

Sam Vega said...

I hope you like Invisible Cities. One of my favourite books. Do let me know.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I shall.

Demetrius said...

We once had a holiday at Aberporth, 40 odd years ago. We did get wet, sometimes damp but never sunburned. Is this down to climate change?

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - yes, but it must have happened suddenly about forty years ago. You just missed it!