How Memory Works



Ever had an event in life that you absolutely recall as happened and others around you tell you that, no that didn’t happen? Or the opposite, that something did happen – to you- and you have no actual memory of the event? I think it’s fairly common although most people I have ever discussed this topic with tell me it’s not. Maybe I think it is because it’s happened to me – both cases. It’s strange to recall an event, traumatic or not that no one who was supposedly there, recalls. I used to think that in one case, maybe the event was so disturbing that I blocked it, somehow, from memory. In the other case, I have perfect recollection of something that I claim to have happened when I was five or six years old, that I have ben told all my life,  did not happen.

How and why do we remember things? Memory, I’ve been told, is something that no one definitively knows how it works. We remember some events, others we don’t. What did you have for dinner Wednesday,  teo weeks ago? Some people may recall, I couldn’t tell you specifically. I know what it may have been, but as I am writing this now, I wouldn;t be sure. Ask me what I had at my rehearsal dinner before I was married? I remember exactly,  or the exact time my child was born. It seems we tend to be able to recall significant events in our lives, but everyday occurrences? Not so much.

So how is it I claim a memory, as clear today as it ever was, of something I’m told didn’t occur? Was it some sort of dream and that dream stayed with me all. my life? That dream was so profound that my mind just stored it, “in color and dolby digital sound” all these years? Why would I have a memory of something that never happened? the other event I referenced happened a few years later. No memory of this . Ever. Only one person (my mother) ever told me this happened. She was certain but I’m not and another person that would have been there, my sister, doesn’t recall it either. It was supposedly significant, to hear. my mother tell it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but there are experiences in life I’d prefer to forget, but can’t seem to make that happen, yet there are those small, niggling memories, that I can’t confirm, that should be gone, yet hang around in my memory. To be sure, I’ve done a little research on this topic and even asked a professional I know (psychologist). None of the research I have done can say exactly how it works. There are some theories, based on research, but it seems to be more dependent on the individual than something that may be concluded for everyone. Even my psychologist friend tells me pretty much the same thing: “We’re not exactly certain”.

Of course, I expect someone to comment on this and tell me that yes, it is well known how memory works. But then the same person(s) will not of course, be able to tell me why I remember an event I’m told never happened, and don’t recall one I’m told did.

One thought on “How Memory Works

  1. I have a poor memory and it isn’t getting any better. Then again, I remember what I need to know. Unlike Jim, I am not good at specifics, even important specifics, but keep a more generalized memory log. Then again, I was a quick study, rapidly learning my lines from a play only to completely forget them when it was all over, plus my character’s name and other characters’ names and often the whole of the plot, etc.

    I shift what I need to know and remember to a locked room and toss out unnecessary stuff to make the rest of my space less cluttered; writing it down is a good habit, keeping recipes and some sort of records of my own in a half-assed manner. I hope to always be able to unlock that room should I need something. The lock is there to keep me from tossing out truly important stuff. Everything else just moves all around. It is not very efficient, but it works for me. Maybe it is all those years of MAD Magazine…”What Me Worry?”

    I have had repeating scenes of dreams, which seem so real that I think I must have experienced them, but they hover beyond my reach to examine them close.

    Recently, when I read in an old journal (haha…right) of an instance, which was important enough for me to write down, I was stunned that I had remembered wrong…and had told the details incorrectly to my children many times.

    My mother was almost obsessed with remembering as far back as she could in childhood and parts of her life’s memories made her what she was and what she wanted to appear to be. She had difficulty living in the present. A poor memory is a good thing to my mind and I do not work at remembering the past. Living in the present and rolling gently into the future so that it doesn’t take your breath away seems to be my goal.

    There are small bits of unimportant memories that I would have sworn happened that others tell me did not, but nothing big…and I accept that I am most likely mistaken and move on. I can’t say that I have had anything like you have experienced, Jim. It must be a bit of a worry to experience that.

    I would not make a good witness…


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