Whoa there! before we start talking about memories, lets be clear what we’re talking about. I want to suggest that human memories are not what we think they are.
Let me explain:
We can only remember an event once …
A long time ago, we were making a movie about a beautiful model who had had her arm destroyed by a supposedly tame tiger. Don’t ask…
We really needed a strong voice-over, in which the model described what happened in her own words. My problem was that whenever I asked her to talk about what happened, she sounded so cool that she leeched all the drama out of the scene.
Eventually I stopped and asked her how she could talk about the trauma so unemotionally. She said, “You’ve got to understand, I’ve had to go over it so many times, with the lawyers, the doctors and everyone …”
And then I realised that when she was talking to camera, she wasn’t remembering what had happened at all. She was remembering her last description. And that in turn was created by her memory of the previous description, and so on. And each description in this long chain was like a talk-therapy session, in which the pressure of the emotional sting dissolved into the fresh air.
We were stuck. So next day, I decided to ask her to remember something about the event that she had probably never recalled. If my theory was right, this would mean that her description would be closer to the event itself.
I asked her to start by describing the smells as she approached the cage. Then the sounds.
We got a very powerful, raw interview.
I’ve thought about this a lot since then. It taught me that, just as we can only ever see a film for the first time, once; only lose our virginity once (who was it who said, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin”?), so also we can only ever remember an event once. From then on, each time we remember it, the recollection will be filtered through all our previous recollections, like a mental version of Chinese whispers.
The memory is not the same as the event we remember
In his great book, “Steps to an Ecology of Mind”, Gregory Bateson cites Korzybski’s maxim that “The Map is not the Territory”, by which Korzybski meant that the symbol is not the same as the thing it symbolises – any more than the tag is the same as the thing we tag. Or as my wife says, any more than a wedding is a marriage.
Well, in the same way, I’d like to suggest Alan’s maxim: “A memory is not the same as what is being remembered.”
But much more than is the case with maps and territories, our memories present themselves as if they really were the same as the original. In fact, the only difference we usually allow, is that the memory may be less distinct.
And so we swear in court or in the pub that we are remembering the whole truth. And we believe it. And we can’t understand how it happens that one sister remembers mother in a green dress and the other sister “knows” it was a red dress. Of course both sisters are accurately reporting their memories. It’s just that over time, the memory and the event diverge imperceptibly.
Next entry, I’ll try to explore this as an aspect of consciousness: when some time soon we accuse a machine of being affected by false memory syndrome, we’ll know we are dealing with a conscious machine.
Rememble and memory
What’s the relevance of this to Rememble? Rememble can make us aware of this process. And more, as it develops it might allow us to roll back to any of the previous memory states we had.
[Posted by Alan Sekers]
social bookmarking links:
- All memories are false: all memories are true
- The Conflict: Memory Aids, Life-Streaming & Being Time-Poor
- Remembering everything forever
- Enterprise Centre for the Creative Arts (ECCA): Case Study the Rememble Launch
- Extremely Retro Blogging
- New Year New Menu
- Rememble on Intruders TV
- Catching Up with Ourselves and Being Live
- Rememble Launches at Future Of Web Apps London!
- Remembling in Four Figures