Memories and Other Imaginings

What can you remember of your younger days? Can you remember much from when you were less than 10 or 5 years old? I can “remember” a couple of incidents from before I was 5, but what I remember involved me “seeing” what was happening to me from an observers point of view, not what was happening to me from “my” view point. What I remember is not the memory but a memory of a memory of a memory etc.

Indeed when asked by someone earlier this week “How far can you remember back?”, I thought of a time standing in shallow warm water near a beach of red sand under a bright sun and watching trilobites frolic in the shallow sea. I thought of catching some and cooking them to see if they tasted like prawns. Indeed I thought that they would be far sweeter than the juiciest prawn. But I also was aware that standing on this Cambrian shore, there would be no trees (or land plants) for many millions of years, so I would not be able to start a fire to cook them. Now this memory of events occurring some 500 + Million years ago is as “real” as any other memory from when I was 5.

Now for some big questions! What is a memory? How do we store Memories? Where do we store Memories? Is there a definitive answer to any of these questions?

What we know is that the brain plays a vital part in our memories. Interfere with our brain and you will most likely interfere with some aspect of our memory. Many people agree that our memories are our most vital part. Indeed we are defined by our memory. How we differ today from how we were on the day we were borne (apart from a bit of facial hair and size) is a result of what we can remember. What is safe to eat, what we like to eat, how to get out of bed in the morning, which way to go to work, how we work, how to avoid the evil eye of the boss, what our name is, how to read, what does this word mean, what does a red traffic light mean, what is a traffic light? Without memory we are but a new borne.

Now consider your earliest memories. Is what you see in your minds eye a view from your point of view, or a view of you from “outside”, much the way you might expect to see the scene if it was recorded as a video? The chances are your “memory” is as a recording from a observers viewpoint. Also I suspect when we “think” about it our memory is not a memory from that time, but a memory of the memory of the memory . . . . Reinforced and edited by remembering it. Is it an accurate record of the events of the time? From our perspective – most definitely, but to somewone else present it would be different, not just because they would have different physical world perspective of the event, but because their memory editor works differently from yours.

In the end how can we distinguish a “real” memory from an imagined one?

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