”The most beautiful things are not associated with money; they are memories and moments. If you don’t celebrate those, they can pass you by.”
”Memories are stored in a region of the brain called the hippocampus.”
Memory is our past and future. To know who you are as a person, you need to have some idea of who you have been. And, for better or worse, your remembered life story is a pretty good guide to what you will do tomorrow. “Our memory is our coherence,” our reason, our feeling, even our action.” Lose your memory and you lose a basic connection with who you are.
”You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories.”
Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
It’s no surprise, then, that there is a fascination with this quintessentially human ability. When I cast back to an event from my past – let’s say the first time I ever swam backstroke unaided in the sea – I don’t just conjure updates and times and places (what psychologists call “semantic memory”). I do much more than that. I am somehow able to reconstruct the moment in some of its sensory detail and relive it, as it were, from the inside. I am back there, amid the sights and sounds and seaside smells. I become a time traveler who can return to the present as soon as the demands of “now” intervene.
“Memory and forgetfulness are as life and death to one another. To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die.”
This is quite a trick, psychologically speaking, and it has made cognitive scientists determined to find out how it is done. The sort of memory I have described is known as “autobiographical memory”, because it is about the narrative we make from the happenings of our own lives. It is distinguished from semantic memory, which is memory for facts, and other kinds of implicit long-term memory, such as your memory for complex actions such as riding a bike or playing a saxophone.
”Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
When you ask people about their memories, they often talk as though they were material possessions, enduring representations of the past to be carefully guarded and deeply cherished. But this view of memory is quite wrong. Memories are not filed away in the brain like so many video cassettes, to be slotted in and played when it’s time to recall the past. Sci-fi and fantasy fictions might try to persuade us otherwise, but memories are not discrete entities that can be taken out of one person’s head, Dumbledore-style, and distilled for someone else’s viewing. They are mental reconstructions, nifty multimedia collages of how things were, that are shaped by how things are now. Autobiographical memories are stitched together as and when they are needed from information stored in many different neural systems. That makes them curiously susceptible to distortion, and often not nearly as reliable as we would like.