Fallible Memories

I recently got in touch with someone who I haven’t seen for over 30 years. In fact the last time we spoke I was a pre-teen! During our early catch up emails I was about to remind this person that after my parents separated she and my mum shared a house for some time, about a year I think. I was halfway through typing out the sentence when I suddenly remember, it wasn’t this person at all, but somebody completely different! How could I make such an error?

As it turns out, quite easily.

It seems that each time we recall a memory, we change it, in fact we could even be  remembering the last time we remembered it and not the actual event itself (https://factualfacts.com/science-facts/when-you-remember-a-past-event-youre- actually-remembering-the-last-time-you-remembered-it-not-the-event-itself/) and (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160517131928.htm).

Thankfully my embarrassment was saved before I hit send.

Unlike that time when a bunch of people I know were discussing past exploits when we were all younger and would regularly take our cars out racetracks or airfields for a day of fuel burning, tyre smoking, adrenalin fuelled, fun. During the on-line discussion a few photos of key events were posted and one such photos featured me on track in my Honda Civic VTEC with a Ford Escort Cosworth ahead of me. Someone sarcastically teased me saying I was inferior to let that happen. I confidently responded that I actually overtook the Ford on the next lap.

Imagine my surprise when a few days later I actually found a written report about that very track day that I’d prepared for the car club I was a member of at the time. I suffered a genuine moment of Cognitive Dissonance when I read that it was in fact the Ford that had overtaken my humble Honda. Oh the shame!

To anyone who knows their cars, the fact that my Honda was passed by that Ford should not be a surprise because the Ford is a much faster car. My own bias and wish fulfilment had led me to genuine believe the opposite of what had actually happened. The period of time elapsed was about ten years.

Yet Christians will continually promote the idea that the oral traditions which underpin many of the biblical narratives are accurate (http://reknew.org/2008/01/how-reliable-was-the-early-churchs-oral-traditions/).

How can they know? If they knew the truth of the original events, they could compare the actual event with the reported narrative. They don’t know the truth of the event, but they believe the narrative so they must create a scenario by which the original event becomes believable. This is essential in order to maintain their beliefs.

Yet the more we learn about how memory works, the more we realise that it is a constantly changing malleable process that will bend to satisfy our own wishful thinking.

If the strongest argument presented for something unexpected happening is that someone remembers it happening that way, then I’d suggest that accepting it without question is pretty much the worst thing you can do.

Advertisements

One thought on “Fallible Memories

  1. In recent years, Polly and I have traveled to communities, schools, and houses that hold a prominent place in our memories of yesteryear. We have learned that our “memories” often don’t match reality. I remember living in one house back in the 1960s that I thought was a spacious tri-level home. The house is actually quite small.

    I do a lot of biographical writing. Trying to be factual can be difficult. All I can do is try to be as truthful as possible. My memories have been shaped and reshaped many times. Your point about oral recollections of the past is spot on. I suspect most re-tellings are an admixture of truth, lie, and misunderstanding.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s