Sunday, July 12, 2009

Are Your Memories Real?

There's a fascinating piece on false memory from Karl Taro Greenfeld in The Washington Post. Did the unforgettable moments of his life - even if they seem entirely real - really happen?
Memory, neuroscientists now believe, is a pattern or grouping of neighboring neurons firing in the brain in reproduction of the initial pattern that fired when the actual experience happened. Each time that experience is recalled, it triggers a similar pattern of neurons, thus strengthening the memory while at the same time altering it; the grouping may lose a few neurons and gain a few new ones. A memory, in other words, is nothing more than a chemical reaction that is subject to the same variations and inconsistencies as any other human endeavor; we can be no more sure of the accuracy of our recollections than we can be of, say, the accuracy of the next foul shot in basketball. A falsehood can be deposited in the brain and reinforced almost as easily as a true-life experience. Memory is fallible, we all acknowledge that, yet a memoirist is expected to report a version that is true to life.
Of course, all this presents many difficulties for the memoirist, and we've seen not a few cases of false memory highlighted in recent years.

Greenfeld's latest memoir is Boy Alone : A Brother's Memoir is about living with an autistic sibling and you can hear more about it in this podcast.

(Thanks, Chet, for the link.)

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