PDA

View Full Version : Are memories the real thing, or copies and modifications of the real thing?



potoole
2012-Aug-03, 08:40 AM
When a person recalls a past occurrence, he/she brings it out of memory, mulls it over, then restores it in memory. But, does it go back as the original, or does it go back as new modification of the original, or as a new memory? Perhaps our minds are full of copies of memories of memories and so forth and so on. Each copy being a slight modification and renewed version of the previous memory.

Paddy

primummobile
2012-Aug-03, 09:10 AM
When a person recalls a past occurrence, he/she brings it out of memory, mulls it over, then restores it in memory. But, does it go back as the original, or does it go back as new modification of the original, or as a new memory? Perhaps our minds are full of copies of memories of memories and so forth and so on. Each copy being a slight modification and renewed version of the previous memory.

Paddy

Like a jpeg?

HenrikOlsen
2012-Aug-03, 09:56 AM
There is a lot of evidence that suggests memories are actually very sketchy, with few details really remembered.

When e.g. a scene once seen is recalled, all the missing details are filled in by the mind before we become aware of the memory, so it presents itself to the conscious mind as a complete scene with nothing to show what's made up and what's actually remembered.
But the majority of what's remembered is actually put in afterwards.

This can be shown by e.g. taking a very well-known iconic image such as the guy standing in front of a column of tanks on the way to Tienanmen square, digitally line the street with spectators and then showing the new version to people and asking what's wrong with it. Almost nobody remembers the sides of the street because they were not where the action happened, so seeing the spectators will retroactively correct the memory to add them.
And for that matter, asking later how many people were seen on the images will have people now recall the spectators because the memory has been altered by being refreshed by the new version.

This is true for every normal human being, it's just how memory works. It's quite normal to have people recall events in great detail and be able to describe everything, even the tiniest of minutae, but the vast majority is actually not recalled but is something filled in by the memory system from scratch.
This is one of the important reasons why eye-witness testimony is the weakest form of evidence, even when the witness it trying very hard to say exactly what they remember, a lot of what's remembered will not actually be real memory.

DoggerDan
2012-Aug-04, 06:50 AM
Although my parents were always fascinated that I could recall very early childhood memories in exact detail, I was recently brought face to face with a childhood memory of which my memory wasn't so good. It had to do with the color and length of my hair in a picture. I recall (or so I thought) the picture with perfect clarity, but I hadn't seen that picture since the early 1970s. When I looked at it, my hair was several inches shorter than I remember, and a whole lot darker.

I don't know what it means, but I also looked a lot older than I remembered. Don't think it was a different picture, though, as this one was distinctive, of a trip I'd taken to an amusement park. Only once have I taken that trip with the individual who took the picture!

So, are the rest of my memories this flawed, or should I could myself lucky that remembered as many details as I do?

HenrikOlsen
2012-Aug-04, 01:58 PM
The rest of your memories are likely just as flawed. That's just how memory works unfortunately.

mutleyeng
2012-Aug-04, 02:20 PM
how much of this is caused by the process of recalling memory, and how much is down to our initial observation being lousy in the first place. Can we separate the two?
Derren Brown does that "trick" where he stops random people in the street and pretends to ask directions, where two blokes carrying something large walk between them, giving him the chance to swap places with another character who looks completely different (even different colour) and then continue the converstation. Most people dont bat an eye lid. (of course, i dont know how many times he did it and it was recognised due to editing)

Noclevername
2012-Aug-06, 02:42 AM
I read somewhere that since recall works by association, every time you recall a certain memory, it's further altered by the circumstances and thoughts you had while remembering it.

Jens
2012-Aug-06, 06:35 AM
That's just how memory works unfortunately.

Not necessarily unfortunately. If we could remember everything in detail we might all be raving cases of PTSD.

Strange
2012-Aug-06, 12:14 PM
Although my parents were always fascinated that I could recall very early childhood memories in exact detail...

I can't comment on your memories (obviously!) but in some cases where people think they can remember details from childhood, they are actually just remembering photos and/or the stories told about it when they were a little older.

I have one very clear memory from when I was about 1 year old. The odd thing is, I have always remembered it as seen looking down on me. I assume at some point I saw a photograph and incorporated it as a memory. Or maybe I can remember someone else's memories!

publiusr
2012-Aug-06, 09:28 PM
I distinctly remember seeing a slow motion fireball as bright as the sun but with a comet tail that was setting very slowly. I was very young when this happened. I might be remembering a dream too though...

John Mendenhall
2012-Aug-07, 01:22 AM
Had you asked before, I would have sworn that I had never ridden on an elephant. Then I ran across a picture taken by my wife of me and our oldest child riding on an elephant at the San Jose, CA zoo. I think the explanation is that I was so focused on the child that I dismissed the rest.

Noclevername
2012-Aug-07, 01:38 AM
I have one very clear memory from when I was about 1 year old. The odd thing is, I have always remembered it as seen looking down on me. I assume at some point I saw a photograph and incorporated it as a memory. Or maybe I can remember someone else's memories!

It's not uncommon to replay memories looking at yourself from the "outside", especially if dreaming, tired or anesthetised. Since dreams are often thought to be reprocessed from remembered elements, it's not surprising that an often-recalled memory has morphed into "looking" at your younger self. It's this process that probably gave rise to the belief in out-of-body experiences.

Or maybe someone was holding up a mirror when you were 1. ;)

Romanus
2012-Aug-07, 10:06 PM
how much of this is caused by the process of recalling memory, and how much is down to our initial observation being lousy in the first place. Can we separate the two?
Derren Brown does that "trick" where he stops random people in the street and pretends to ask directions, where two blokes carrying something large walk between them, giving him the chance to swap places with another character who looks completely different (even different colour) and then continue the converstation. Most people dont bat an eye lid. (of course, i dont know how many times he did it and it was recognised due to editing)

It's probably a little of both. The brain is remarkably efficient at screening out details it considers irrelevant or peripheral, even if those details are incongruous. There was a show on not too long ago ("Brain Games", I think it was), that was full of real-life examples of this effect, even ones that weren't revealed until the end of the program (when you realized there were a host of details you yourself never noticed, despite their being glaring once pointed out). And as Henrik Olsen pointed out, you can change someone's memory simply by restating it differently; there was a famous experiment some years ago where they were able to convince volunteers that they remembered nonexistent details in pictures they'd been shown.

In my op, though, I don't think there is any single kind of memory. There's "flash memory" that's triggered by some momentous (and often tragic) event, but there are also subtle memories you can't even put a name to; for instance, the way a smell can instantly "transport" you to a time, place, or mental state years past, perhaps one you'd forgotten completely before that moment. Then there's positive or negative association, which I consider a type of memory, and so on.

DoggerDan
2012-Aug-09, 03:22 AM
The rest of your memories are likely just as flawed.

Thanks for that wonderfully positive vote of confidence. Actually, immediate and extended family say my memory is damned near perfect, and I remember the other childhood photos with near flawless precision.

Do you always make statements of fact about that which you know nothing about, Henrik? I find it very annoying, a fact I'm sure I'll remember with as much clarity when I'm 70 as I do this evening.

primummobile
2012-Aug-09, 11:45 AM
Thanks for that wonderfully positive vote of confidence. Actually, immediate and extended family say my memory is damned near perfect, and I remember the other childhood photos with near flawless precision.

Do you always make statements of fact about that which you know nothing about, Henrik? I find it very annoying, a fact I'm sure I'll remember with as much clarity when I'm 70 as I do this evening.

The 'likely' in his statement indicated that it wasn't true 100% of the time. You have provided one anecdote to 'prove' that memory is perfect, while decades of research says the opposite. In addition, his statement was in reply to a story you told about how your memory is flawed.

You asked a question, and he answered it without getting personal about it. Why you would take that personally, and as a 'vote of confidence' is something I don't understand. You asked the question. If you didn't want honest answers you shouldn't have asked.

DancesWithFruitBats
2012-Aug-09, 12:38 PM
I read somewhere that since recall works by association, every time you recall a certain memory, it's further altered by the circumstances and thoughts you had while remembering it.

From a neuroscience course a long time ago I remember that a "memory" or "thought" is in fact a depleted pool of neurotransmitters at a synapse which serves as a been-here-before signal influencing neural connections.

banquo's_bumble_puppy
2012-Aug-10, 11:49 AM
Memories are at best mediocre copies of an event that happened to you or that you viewed or learned about...degrading over time...sometimes memories are false...as in...you have a dream, but remember it as a real event...or you think you remember something from childhood that never happened... I believe that I viewed JFK's funeral on tv... a small 12" black and white tv....but did I really see this? I was only 3...maybe, maybe not...my take on it anyway

DoggerDan
2012-Aug-10, 08:18 PM
You have provided one anecdote to 'prove' that memory is perfect...

No, I provided on anecdote which proved my memory of that specific event was faulty, while sharing other instances in which it was pretty darn good.


In addition, his statement was in reply to a story you told about how your memory is flawed.


Why you would take that personally...

Why are you wrongly accusing me of taking it personally?

primummobile
2012-Aug-11, 09:00 AM
No, I provided on anecdote which proved my memory of that specific event was faulty, while sharing other instances in which it was pretty darn good.





Why are you wrongly accusing me of taking it personally?

Have you read your reply? It was Rude. When reasonable people become rude in a rational conversation it's usually because they are offended. People get offended in these situations when they take something personally. You may not have, but that's sure how your reply sounds.

Swift
2012-Aug-11, 02:14 PM
Everyone, please take it down a notch. This is getting entirely too personal. And please, if someone is posting something that you think is rude or inappropriate, do not respond to it (particularly in the same tone), please just Report it.