Monday, March 3, 2008

memories

Have you ever had a disagreement with a friend over something that happened in the past where you remember things one way and the friend remembers them another way? (Yeah, we've probably all experienced that.) And of course that usually begs the question: Who's right and who's wrong?

(Bonus points if you answered, "If it involves Barb -- Barb is always right!")

Well, according to Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, you're probably both wrong, at least to some degree.

Stumbling on Happiness is a book about how the mind works, and Gilbert points out (with the help of psychological experiments, etc.) that the brain takes some shortcuts in cramming the "vast universe of our experience" into the "relatively small storage compartment between our ears". He writes:

The elaborate tapestry of our experience is not stored in memory -- at least not in its entirety. Rather it is compressed for storage by first being reduced to a few critical threads, such as a summary phrase ('Dinner was disappointing') or a small set of key features ('tough steak, corked wine, snotty waiter'). Later, when we want to remember our experience, our brains quickly reweave the tapestry by fabricating -- not by actually retrieving -- the bulk of the information that we experience as a memory.

Gilbert adds that information acquired after an event alters one's memory of the event, and the tendency to "fill in the holes in our memories of the past with material from the present is especially powerful when it comes to remembering our emotions".

So I guess it's best to take our memories and those of others with a grain of salt, especially if they involve emotions...

8 comments:

David said...

Makes sense. Sometimes memories that are older for me - I remember several strong specific parts of a memory that stick out and the in betweens are kind of blurred. That may be where my re-weaving takes place. The in between stuff. If that makes any sense..

Barbara B. said...

david, yes! makes sense to me too. (Plus the author makes the point that it is so seamless that you usually don't know you are doing the reweaving.)

Presbyterian Gal said...

My mom has rewritten a lot of history in her time. Especially the parts when she talks about me as her son who played Little League!! ;)

Seriously though, this makes a lot of sense. Though I'll probably remember it differently tomorrow.

David said...

Ahh, well the author must be a smart individual, that's interesting material, thanks for sharing :)

Rev SS said...

Remembering conversations of the past ... even tho' I never could articulate the scientific reasons :)

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

So true.

Diane said...

which is why memoirs are so, uh, flexible.

Barbara B. said...

"flexible" is a good word!! :)