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Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Nature of Memory

     Think of your mind as a bowl filled with clear water. Now imagine each memory as a teaspoon of milk stirred into the water. Every adult mind holds thousands of these murky memories. Who among us would dare to disentangle the water from the milk? Memories don't sit in one place, waiting patiently to be retrieved; they drift through the brain, more like clouds or vapor than something we can put our hands around.

     This view of memory has been a hard sell. Human beings feel attached to their remembered past, for the people, places and events we enshrine in memory give structure and definition to the person we think of as our "self." If we accept the fact that our memories are milky molecules, spilling into dream and imagination, then how can we pretend to know what is real and what is not? Who among us wants to believe that our grasp on reality is so provisional, that reality in fact is impenetrable and unfathomable because it is only what we remember, and what we remember is rarely the literal truth?

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994


  1. Because when you question reality you get labelled as mentally ill. As a result, people refuse to question their minds out of fear of that labeling, and what it can mean and cause to their lives.

  2. Interesting and somewhat terrifying post! What's scary is that today we put some much value on our "achievements" and "experiences", building our whole persona around them. Then you get alzheimers and the memories vanish. You can remember whether you were the first person on Mars or a shoe shine boy.

    1. I guess we are all entitled to remember things about ourselves in ways we wish to remember them. But when a 20-year-old memory is the basis for convicting someone of a crime, then we have to be concerned if the event is remembered correctly.