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Sunday, 10 November 2013

A false memory


The other day I found out that an old memory from my schooldays was false. I thought I’d known somebody at school, but there is no way I could have known them because we were not there at the same time.

It wasn’t someone I thought I remembered knowing personally by the way – I’m not that far gone. It was more like a disembodied factoid hovering around my school memories. I only discovered it to be false accidentally – it wasn't something I checked out deliberately.

Coming across a false memory is odd and quite a surprise. Now it is turning into a memory of having had a false memory - the original false memory already fading away.

Suppose I had another childhood memory where I went shopping for my mother and came back with butter, bread and eggs. However although this memory is an old one and I have no way of confirming its accuracy, it sticks in my memory for some reason. Maybe I dropped the box of eggs and broke one.

As my mother is no longer with us there is no way I can check what really happened. As far as I know it may be inaccurate or false in that it happened to someone else. Surely this is one of the pitfalls of memories – they need some kind of confirmation if they are to be relied on. Even then there may be inaccuracies.

Is it possible that memory becomes less and less reliable over time but it doesn’t matter because it cannot be checked? Or does it become unreliable because we make less use of it?

How about attitudes? Do you remember earlier versions of your attitudes as they change over the years? Or have your attitudes never changed? Or do you fail to remember the change because you no longer have those attitudes?

Maybe the electronics revolution and social websites are destined to change all that. Eventually we won’t need a memory at all because everything we need to know about ourselves is stored online. If they aren’t confirmed online, memories will be seen as false and will fade away.

12 comments:

Demetrius said...

Checking online to see if my memory of someone on the same team as me at school found I was wrong. He was in his last year and I in my first. It may have crossed with a match a few years later with my then team and him on the other side. Strange that some odd things come in clear but others maybe important are muddled.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - that was very similar to my experience. Similarly it was probably some kind of memory tangle but quite odd to find out after so many years.

Sackerson said...

La vida es sueño.

Jeanette said...

I like your post because it summarizes the heated "memory debates" that you may not be aware of.

I've put your post on my FB and Twitter feed.

Best

James Higham said...

Coming across a false memory is odd and quite a surprise. Now it is turning into a memory of having had a false memory - the original false memory already fading away.

Love it.

Now, did I press the publish button or not?

A K Haart said...

Sackers - fortunately not in my case!

Jeanette - welcome. I'm aware of memory debates, but not heated ones. Unless I've forgotten!

James - with me it's sometimes unintentional. Publish... oops.

Roma Hart said...

Jeanette and I are both deeply involved in the war against False Memory Syndrome, something that the recovered memory industry opposes because they firmly believe that all memories are recorded in the brain like a video tape just ready to be played back with the assistance of hypnosis or whatever their latest costly therapy is being offered. The truth though is that memories are not like that at all. Of course false memories, or just forgetting or just not remembering correctly are not the same as False Memory Syndrome where the person has completely reinvented and deeply invested their whole lives around a false memory. Not in the DSM, yet, but that doesn't change the facts. Thanks for this blog Haart, it opens up the conversation about memory reliability.

A K Haart said...

Roma - ah, I see where you are coming from. This is an earlier post on the subject.

http://akhaart.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/false-memories.html

duffandnonsense said...

I used to suffer with false memory syndrome, usually on Sunday mornings. Alas, these days the 'Memsahib' puts me right!

duffandnonsense said...

I used to suffer with false memory syndrome, usually on Sunday mornings. Alas, these days the 'Memsahib' puts me right!

A K Haart said...

Ray - I'm okay with names, so I don't need anyone to put me right there, but as for the other stuff, forget it.

Jeanette said...

AK Haart, memory debates being "heated" is an understatement. I've had so many vile and threatening comments left on my blog, I had to contact the FBI. No joke, that's a little heat.