Memories

Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Thoughts | 1 comment

We forget our past so quickly. We remember the momentois occasions of our lives bit the trivial things seem to disappear into a vagueness, just out of reach, or vanish altogether.

So much happens to us in our lives, each moment, event and action leading us to the present and into the future, and yet we are disconnected from our past, and many of these memories of actions will never return. I have trouble remembering what I ate for breakfast, let alone what I did Wednesday three weeks ago at 10:35 am. Chances are I didn’t even notice that time of day on that particular day anyhow, bit I know I was at work, so o was most likely awake. But whatever I was doing was of such little significance that my mind has decided it’s not important enough to hold on to.

What is really interesting is that if it weren’t for the events in our past, we might have seen a very different present. We all speculate about what might have been, what could have been, should have been, had things been a little different.

What we do remember are joys, happiness and achievements, and even more powerfully, things like pain, discomfort, shame and regrets. These more powerful feelings are so strong for a reason. The idea that our mind builds  if we touch a hotplate is “Don’t do that again!” and we hold onto that as a learning experience. Likewise making a fool of yourself in a public situation may cause a feeling of embarrassment and shame, our minds storing this away as a warning to not get into that sotuation again. Conversely when we do something rewarding, we store it away as a reminder of the pleasure seeker within our nature. Pleasure good, discomfort bad.

Even stronger memories can take the form of events like births and deaths, because those are life-altering events, after which our perception of our own lives is changed. These are the “big moments” in life, whether we like it or not, they stay with us.

So the mind works like a memory filter, only keeping the parts that are directly related to survival, pleasure and discomfort, and the life-altering. These things do not happen every day, and for most of human history these events may have been few and far between.

Imagine what it might be like to remember everything that has happened in life. Every word said, every action made, every breath and heartbeat. Just imagine that kind of recall. I know some people have a huge capacity for recall, some people with autism or aspberger’s syndrome for example. Every peron on earth has a varying ability to recall some things, some people are great at it, others are not so good. What is staggering though is even people on the lower end of the scale can remember an amazing amount of things. The human brain, when functioning properly, is an amazing recall machine.

The most interesting thing about memories is how they change over time. We can sometimes add importance or significance to a memory that wasn’t present when the event or action took place. We can exaggerate our own experiences in our brains, een unconsciously, and create situations in our memories that may not have happened. This is a very important aspect to human nature. Throughout history people have written their experiences from memory, and who knows how many times these experiences may have been exaggerated? The men who wrote books like The Bible or Koran or Torah wrote from memories of their experiences, or memories as told to them from other people. I wonder to what degree is ancient myth exaggerated by the authors, or remembered badly, or even just invented to fill in holes in a story. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing.

I have a terrible recall for names, and even worse recall for conversations over a few beers. But it’s the only memory I have to rely on. 

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