Today Fandango asks, although this is supposedly a revisited question, “How do you know which of your memories are genuine and which have been altered over time or even made up?”
I didn’t catch this question the first time it was asked and it looks like fun, so I will give it my best shot today. I imagine that a lot of people who are suffering with dementia may not know which of their memories are real and which ones are made up, but these people are in a mental void and as long as they are happy, I guess that is OK, however I don’t think that Fandango is asking about people with conditions, as he said that this question popped up because he thinks that his memory is getting worse almost to the point of where it may be incredibly unreliable. A quick search revealed that, “There is currently no way to distinguish, in the absence of independent evidence, whether a particular memory is true or false. Even memories which are detailed and vivid and held with 100 percent conviction can be completely false.”
This makes me wonder if memories can be trusted, since we can all have true memories and false memories. A true memory is the real retrieval of an event of any nature, be it visual, verbal, or otherwise, but these true memories are constantly being rewritten (re-encoding) inside of our brains for some reason or another. A false memory is defined as the recollection of an event that did not happen or a distortion of an event that indeed occurred. Your memories can be erased or manipulated and we are constantly being exposed to new information. The human brain can undergo memory reconsolidation which is the process of previously consolidated memories being recalled and actively consolidated. It is a distinct process that serves to maintain, strengthen and modify memories that are already stored in the long-term memory.
How in the hell did I let Fandango send me down this rabbit hole, well let’s try to get to the bottom of this issue? It takes a while for the memory to take hold inside of your brain, and this happens through the process of reconsolidation. Memories aren’t just written once, but every time we remember them, so every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. This means, somewhat ironically, that the act of remembering something creates a critical window in which memories can be erased or manipulated and that your memories can change every time you remember something.
The same way that stories change when you play the telephone game (where a story gets passed from one person to the next), your memory can change events and what you believe to be or wish was true can be very different from what actually occurred in reality. There is this thing called your mind’s eye, which is actually the place in your head where images are recalled and created, and everything you’ve ever pictured or imagined has come from your mind’s eye and this gives you a mental picture of what happened. Most people will see images that are slightly unclear or hazy, as if they are looking at them through a dirty piece of glass, and I think this is what is happening to Fandango, but some other people have a condition called Aphantasia and they are unable to picture things in their mind’s eye.
People with this condition would probably excel in math or logic dominated fields, because they can take a more analytical approach to things. Aphantasia is a phenomenon, but people with this condition will most likely have a stronger spatial memory because of the absence of visual memory. Their minds are not cluttered with all the images that normal people perceive and they can describe objects, explain concepts, and even rattle off facts that they know, but they would not have any sort of mental image to accompany this knowledge. This is not an all or nothing, as people can exhibit varying degrees of Aphantasia. Getting back to Fandango’s question and speaking only for myself who I feel that I do have some degree of Aphantasia, I feel that most of my memories are genuine.
Written for Fandango’s Provocative Question #17 revisited.