On Recalling A Spotless Mind

There’s something I’ve been mulling over ever since my husband first brought it up. He mentioned an article he read that said we might now have the power to erase specific memories – great for getting rid of the traumatic ones, but I wonder about the rest. It turns out our memories aren’t the coherent images we think they are. They don’t reside in our brain waiting to be accessed. Instead, memories result from chemical and protein connections in our brain. We rebuild them each time we recall them, and every time we think of them we rebuild them a little differently, changing the underlying circuitry every time.

This is why witness testimony is so problematic. This is why a year after 9-11, people remember being in an entirely different place when it happened than they said they were just after the event.

This makes me think about the ethics involved. Do we make our memories, or do they make us? Aren’t we all at least a little bit shaped by not only our experiences, but how we remember them? If we take that memory away…what does it do to who we are?

And then it makes me think about the fact that we’re erasing bits of truth out of our mind anyway. That our memories aren’t exactly the factual representations we like to think we are. I itch to write a story about this, to process in my own mind what this looks like and does…but I don’t know how to write anything that isn’t Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

But the question I can’t seem to escape is this: What if every time you remembered your most cherished memory, a little piece of it changed, until what you remember is no longer the memory at all, but just a fiction constructed by your brain?

What if your most important memories, by virtue of being so important, eventually became lies?

* The article was in Wired. If you’re interested to find out more, you can read it here.

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2 thoughts on “On Recalling A Spotless Mind

  1. I'll have to read that article. As for "Do we make our memories, or do they make us?", I think a little of both is true. People tend to dwell on memories, good and bad, and try to live their lives to overcome bad things or emulate the good ones. Isn't that part of why traditions are so important? Keeping memories alive? Another interesting (and maddening!) phenomenon, which the article may or may not dwell on, is how some people are much more likely than others, to twist memories or re-write events to make new memories. These people sort of invent their own realities. Is that what makes people compulsive liars? Is it just that their brain re-writes memories differently than others? Maybe it is biological and compulsive lying is hereditary? That would certainly explain a lot for me. About behaviors I have recognized and puzzle over in people I know. That does sound like the premise for a story, doesn't it?

  2. What an interesting thing to think about. I think so much of our lives is shaped by what we remember of the past. Whether it is accurate or not.