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Memory is an illusion

Page history last edited by Alex Backer, Ph.D. 13 years, 4 months ago

We live under the illusion that we have rather complete memories of what happens to us. This illusion is reinforced by the fact that a) we don't remember what we don't remember, and b) we tend to remember best what's important and behaviorally relevant, which explains why reality does not often confront us with our memory's failures. Furthermore, we typically have no record of 'reality' or even of past perception, and so we assume that what we remember is what really happened.

 

This illusion is exposed most sharply when a) we contrast our memories of shared events with others, who typically remember them differently, even when those events involve emotional episodes which one might think enjoy a more vivid representation, or b) are exposed to a repetition of a past stream of percepts, e.g. by a movie. In a movie, where perception is so disconnected from other memories as to make its encoding by the brain rather difficult, it is not unheard of, or even unusual, for almost an entire movie to be entirely forgotten, only for the subject to be reminded that he has seen it by one scene remembered.

 

It seems to me that different recollections of events is an important cause of disagreement between people. It appears desirable to rely on external memory devices. I deem it very likely that we will rely primarily on external devices for memory within a decade (see also "The Outsourced Brain"). Then again, if we don't, I won't remember I wrote this.

 

Altadena, October 28, 2007.

 

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