Friday, May 4, 2012


It’s layer upon layer. And the great misconception about memory is based on the belief that it’s possible to go back beneath the layers and pull one out, intact.

“The fact of the matter is, you can’t get back to your past,” says William Hirst, a professor of psychology at The New School. In his research, Hirst focuses on how what we do or don’t remember is influenced by the context in which we’re remembering—where we are, and, more important, who we’re talking to.

“You’re constantly shaping your memory,” says Hirst.

--"The Daily Beast" Ben Bradlee's Memories and the Science of Forgetting by Casey Schwartz

While I'm not terribly interested in Watergate or politics, I am fascinated by the human mind. I recently read a Julian Barnes novel that hinges on the middle-aged protagonist's memory of a break-up with a college girlfriend. In the heat of the moment, he writes a blisteringly malevolent letter. Years later, he remembers the incident as a mere blip on the radar screen--until he reads the letter that he wrote as a young man. He is shocked. Did he really write those words? He doesn't remember being terribly upset by the whole thing.

It started me thinking about my memories, both good and bad. Did it really happen the way I remember it? Have I slowly reconstructed reality to fit my version of the story? "The truth and nothing but the whole truth." What is that?

So, I've added a new book to my growing "to be read" stack: "A User's Guide to the Brain" by John J. Ratey, M.D. Not that I think a purely biological understanding of the brain will ever tell us about the concept of truth, but it can't hurt to understand how the little grey cells work.

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