It is not within the purview of this writing to explore the dynamics, chemical and organic, of the phenomenon of memory; the latter is the proper subject and discipline of neuroscientists and biologists who have the requisite credentials. We intend only to make some observations concerning the empirical, everyday operation of memory in our life’ experience.
Memory is a tricky phenomenon but one that is essential to our maintenance of a stable self-image and identifiable existence within the mainstream of society. This is my residence, my spouse and family, my signature, my dog, my job.
We have observed, recorded and have readily available, the context of our life setting and as well, our routine perceptions of it. We have stored away general understandings, beliefs, regular opinions, stereotypes and even have pre-prepared responses to popularly debated issues at the ready. We have a specific list of recalled experiences, good and bad; for example, a reminder to avoid habanero chilies.
Memory is tricky because, immediately following the instant when a sense experience is identified by the brain, the information is re-interpreted by means of our individual perception. We see with our eyes and hear with our ears but all is absorbed through the subjective filter of our perception. Previous experience, aspirations, and general inclination, including biases, play significant roles in our individualized process of “taking in” experience.
Moreover, there is ever -present the unscientific twin phenomena of selective recollection and the painstaking editing of the same, to insure consistent support for one’s established beliefs. inclinations and tactically perceived position. Recollected statements made during a previous heated spousal row, will, without a doubt, significantly vary as recalled by the individual spouse.
An illustration of selective recollection, and in further demonstration that is motivated by matters unrelated to the subject event or statement, is the inclination to, constantly, and audibly, recall a misstatement of a relative, contrasted with that of a non-relative which is often easily forgiven and long forgotten.
Personal memories of successful accomplishments are readily accessible and may even be enhanced in the retelling, while one’s unsuccessful exploits, are recalled, defensively, with scarce detail. We are advised that memories are even manufactured (possibly a combination of wishful- thinking, previously existing prejudice and the smallest scintilla of fact.) Such inaccurate and manufactured assertions of reality, by their frequent repetition tend to bolster their verisimilitude and add to our perennial misconceptions.
Emotions, such as fear and excitement, experienced as a witness to a catastrophic event, predictably and understandably, affect the accuracy of our recollection of the event. Microscopes and telescopes are inanimate objects and thus are capable of objective visual properties; our emotions and thoughts, by contrast, are suggestive distractions which tend to, in varying degrees, distort reality.
Additionally, in our adult lifetimes, especially relating to longtime events, have we not all had the experience of questioning whether something in our life really occurred or was just a dream? We tend, subjectively enough, to compliment others as having a good memory whose recollection matches ours. We must learn to tolerate recollections of events which differ from our own.