True or Lost? – Fandango’s Provocative Question #17

From Fandango:

This week’s provocative question came to mind when my son asked me a question. He wanted to know where we lived when I sold my motorcycle, and I couldn’t remember whether it was in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. I tried and tried, but came up empty. I couldn’t even recall the last time I rode it.

So, I decided to ask a question about human memory, which has been shown to be incredibly unreliable. With that in mind, here is this week’s provocative question:

“How do you know which of your memories are genuine and which have been altered over time or even made up?”

I have forgotten a lot of things. Not important things for the most part, but small things that (I assume) were not critical to life and survival. I don’t remember every day of my life in Israel, but I remember the important pieces. When I see movies or documentaries with pictures, often a lost memory comes bubbling to the surface.

Sometimes, I see pictures from New York and remember that at some point, I ate in that restaurant or took pictures under that bridge in Central Park. I have a very visual memory.


I don’t think I have any “false” memories. I either remember or I’ve forgotten it. A forgotten memory can sometimes be brought back by a friend who was there, although it’s not unusual for me to look at them and say “Really? I don’t remember any of that.” And I don’t. There are organizations I belonged to I’ve completely forgotten and there are a couple of years of elementary school I don’t remember.


I remember my friends — the real ones that mattered to me as opposed to acquaintances. I remember my entire family, some better than others, probably because I spent more memorable time with them.

What I’m missing is gone. My remembering isn’t altered, made up, or rose-covered. Just entirely missing.

Where I grew up

I do not know if this is typical or it’s just me.

When I forget something, I really forget it. I forget who was there with me, who I met, what I did. I forget I was ever there at all.

My childhood is very patchy, but that’s likely a form of dissociation. I was an abused kid. We lose the worst parts of that period and, as one shrink put it: “What you remember is bad enough. No need to stir up the stuff you don’t remember. It may come back to you over the years, but if not … I think you should not stir that pot.”

I haven’t stirred that pot. I don’t think I’d find anything I want to know in its mix.


  1. Fandango asks a very good question and the answer is: you can’t, no-one can, with any degree of real certainty.

    It can be possible to determine if a memory you hold is made-up or just wildly inaccurate in relation to what actually happened that you are trying to fully/partially recall, by comparison with some indisputable reference (like a video showing the event being remembered) but even other witnesses at the same event probably have significantly different recalled data about it. It can be possible, but for most of our memories it is simply not. Our brain is in constant flux, building up new memories and adjusting old ones – even to the point of forgetting them entirely; trying to determine which were altered and by how much is beyond science’s current abilities, we just know that what we ‘remember’ is probably not what we once participated in in exactly the way we recall it – however much we want believe it to be that way.

    It becomes a lot easier to understand when you have a group of 10 people witnessing the same event then asking them a little later to recall the event in as much detail as possible. It is likely that someone reviewing each description individually would think the 10 people were recalling 10 different unrelated or very loosely related events.

    Current studies into human memory are very disturbing for anyone who relies upon it – it raises serious concern regarding court decisions riding on the accurate recall of witnesses. A memory can be significantly adjusted and reformed every single time we recall it into our consciousness as a particular event, adding detail that did not exist or changing individual details that did.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sadly, from about the mid 20’s our brain’s grey matter is losing cells (neurons) faster than it is being replaced. 😦
        Eventually, something’s gotta give.

        From my brain research readings i’ve read where a simple technique is being used for Alzheimer patients that can in theory apply to anyone which reverses the effects, giving patients back some of the faculties they lose. It involves stimulating the brain to produce the high frequency brainwaves associated with high concentration and alertness (which will allow better inter -neuron connectivity for those functions). The stimulation is in the form of sound waves that are fed to each ear (best by good headphones or having stereo speakers either side of the head) that have two different frequencies.

        If the frequencies are close to each other, separated by exactly 40 hz the brain combines the two sounds into a single ‘beat’ of 40 hz and generates a resonant frequency to match it.

        If this is done regularly it becomes easier for the brain to achieve this frequency wave which allows for better concentration and awareness than our typical thinking brainwave frequencies that are usually between 15-30 hz.

        It may not give you back cells or memories, but it may allow the brain to function better for longer with less effort.

        There’s a load of stuff coming out on you tube that you can listen to if you chose. ( As always with you-tube some of the stuff are ‘cheap’ imitators or those who just want fame or money more than offering serious stuff).


      • 😉

        I’ve been spending a bit of time lately trying to understand my (and everyone else’s) brain in the hope i could learn to use it better (and maybe keep it longer?)

        Our brain is SO important to us and yet we barely know a thing about how it does all the miraculous stuff it does and we mostly tend to take it for granted as long as (we think) it is working well for us.

        Science is only just at the edge of beginning to understand how our brains work and why it does what it does, or makes us who we ‘are’.

        I finds it fascinatin’. Fascinatin’, i tells ya! 😀


  2. Fascinating. Now I’m going to toddle off and do the Provocative Question myself. Yesterday’s PQ by Mr. Fandango was a hum-dinger!! I don’t think he meant that question or perspective as a Provocative Question per se, but I found it to be. As did a lot of other people. That one almost turned into a flame war, but Fandango is a cool cat and didn’t lose it when people challenged his viewpoint. I don’t recall if YOU weighed in on that one or not?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are some memories I have of things that I’ve done or things that have been done to me that I wish I could dissociate from, but they are sometimes just as stubbornly vivid as the really good memories.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Yay for dissociation–I think it’s a really helpful coping strategy especially for childhood abuse and other things one can’t help or do anything about. One of my parents was abusive all the time to me and I have few memories of that person, even though she’s still alive. There are relationships that I completely forget even though they lasted four or so years; when elements of Bad Stuff were introduced into them, it wiped out the memory of the good stuff that had been there too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a GREAT question for people like me. I tell and retell my favorite “war stories” from 40 plus years in TV (and radio) news. I have lots of material. Sometimes, I have to pause and edit myself to recall if what I’m saying is accurate. I know I’m given to exaggeration now and then. It goes with the territory of name-dropping famous people and famous/infamous events. I have enough former work colleagues to call me out if I’m grossly exaggerating or outright lying. I do my best to stick with the truth – it works better that way.
      Ironically, I remember the “bad stuff” more than the successes. I remember when I didn’t give the story all it deserved because I had a “liquid” lunch. Those lunches were an integral part of “the biz” in my time.
      There was the time we shot stories on Martha’s Vineyard when Spielberg was shooting “Jaws” in the early 70’s. We were still in the film era before Video tape/”ENG”. It meant you had to get your film back to the newsroom, “souped” (processed) before you could edit. On this assignment, I knew I had a long drive back to Boston with my stories. I “fueled up” with my crew in Edgartown, thinking one of my crew would br driving. No worries, right? Wrong. They gave me the film, my “tracked” narration and the keys to the car. They giggled as they watched me lurch to the car. I remember driving onto the Ferry. The next thing I recalled was arriving at the News Station garage in Boston. I’d lost two, three hours of memory–the ENTIRE drive…in rush hour traffic.
      Wow! I survived that stupidty as one of our cracker-jack editors tooked the processed film, my recorded narration and my editing directions (I was famous for very precise editing instructions). The “Jaws” piece turned out fine and I was congratulated by everyone. No one (except my crew – back on Martha’s Vineyard) knew about “foggy” drive from MV to Boston. That’s an embarrassing story I cannot forget. It plays like a continous loop in my dreams.

      Forgotten: When the legendary actor, Paul Newman, died — I posted comments on Facebook including laments that I never met Newman. A close friended contacted me, reminding me we’d spent a FULL day with the Newman when he’d visited Boston on behalf of his “Hole In The Wall” charity. Apparently, We spent a long afternoon and evening with Paul Newman who enjoyed our company. I didn’t remember any of this. Slowly, details of the day came back as I racked my brain. The answer to my lapse in memory: It had been a very busy period for me, chasing many stories and interviewing myriad people. No alchohol to blame. How do you forget a day shared with Paul Newman? My brain is overloaded with celeb and big event stories. I need more “ram”, storage space in my brain – especially as I grow older.
      What a long winded comment — Well, I remembered this stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not convinced that we need to remember all the bad shit. Especially from when we were kids and helpless. It’s good you remember the drinking because it keeps you sober, but you need not make it your primary memory. I remember the day you forgot where you were. You’d done about 7 stories that day and you not only didn’t remember WHERE you were, you also forgot your own name. You definitely need more RAM, a bigger hard drive, and maybe a new motherboard.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Marilyn, I think the continuous loop of my professional miscues is a subliminal way of keeping me grounded, not “printing the legend” about the past.


      • I just recalled today that I spent the summer of being aged fifteen living and working in New York City with a girl from high school and her very dysfunctional family, hanging out watching movies being filmed and experiencing crazy stuff and working in palces like the World Trade Center as a secretary. Again, why would my parents allow that, and how did I forget that it happened? I’ve never been a drinker or druggie, so it wasn’t that. Brains seem to be like those garbage disposals that never work quite right and never get rid of it all until the machine is replaced–

        Liked by 1 person

          • I find that when I turn to my left to get some snack or paper or pen while reading in bed, or turn over to sleep on the left, music starts in my head like a jukebox. It is usually the last song I heard somewhere, but that could be days back. I just sort of pat it on the head and let it be.


            • Some songs, I kind of like up there. Others — especially those connected with advertisements — get really annoying. So I have to listen to something that will stick itself in that place. Beethoven’s 6th Symphony usually does the trick. You just can’t go wrong with Beethoven.

              Liked by 1 person

              • My partner just started learning how to play cello, and mercifully it doesn’t sound foul even in the learning stage through a thick enough doors. I do get the scales stuck in my head though at times–


    • Apparently it’s common enough and frankly, even if I lost some good memories too, I’m OK with that. The really lurid stuff is in a vault marked “NO ENTRY.” I actually dreamed that once. That I climbed a long tower, but when I got to the top, it was an iron door like a bank vault that said “NO ENTRY.” Life is better that way.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That is extremely practical. Some of my buddies who are old-fashioned multiple personality folks have some things like that, often at the advice of their therapists–boxes where they keep the really bad stuff until they can address it with the therapist, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

Talk to me!

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.