One of the things that has always fascinated me is human memory; how we create them, what sticks, what doesn’t and how it evolves.
Many people think that human memories are rather static. The truth is that’s far from the truth. As we saw in the 1990s is easy to form false memories and easy to conflate them.
One detail that is interesting is that human memories are a bit like DRAM in a computer. In essence when we recall a memory, we have to basically read out the memory space and write it back. One of the side effects is this can actually help strengthen memories. However, it also means when it’s written back, other memories can be conflated with it and a new, slightly different memory is formed.
There’s two main ways of remember something that stand out to me as I write this. Repetition and what I’ll call “sudden shock”.
Many things we need to repeat until we remember them. An example is a child learning their times tables. There’s really not much context and really only rote repetition will cause these to sink in.
At the other end of the spectrum are the memories that are etched in our minds. “Where were you when Challenger blew up?” “How did you first hear about 9/11?” If you ask someone of the right age, they’ll know exactly when/where they were and probably recall vivid details.
If you ask them where they were on the 3rd shuttle mission, they’d probably have no clue. The same is true if you ask them what they were doing on 9/9.
In between are more general memories. Memories of childhood that don’t necessarily have a specific timestamp or even importance. I recall playing in some woods behind my house growing up, but there was nothing really significant about the time or place. I have no idea why I have that memory.
I mentioned above that memories can be modified or manipulated. There’s some work on treating PTSD this way; helping patients recall specific events under controlled circumstances and essentially rewriting the memory into something that doesn’t cause an attack. (Propanolol is one drug being experimented with to do this.)
Strangely there’s one memory of mine that persists that while not a real issue is sort of pointless and annoying to me. It’s “Page 81”.
What’s that you ask? Many years ago (let’s just say before I was a teenager I think) I was staying at my cousin’s grandmother’s house. On the bookshelf they had a copy of Jaws 2. I started reading it but had to leave before I could finish it. Since I knew I’d be back the next summer I decided to remember what page I was on. I repeated the page number to myself over and over again. And to this day, I can remember, I was on page 81 of Jaws 2 when I stopped reading. Of course decades later I have no idea what happened in pages 1-80 so the memory doesn’t do me much good. But there it is. It’s still there. Page 81.
As a note, most of this post was based on memory (I had to look up the name of the drug) so some details may be wrong.