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.
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.