Memory: Weirdly Boring

by Dan

Here’s a question that I almost brought up in the last post:

Think about something you’ve done in the past— it can be anything, so long as it didn’t have a specific moment of conclusion or resolution (not climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, for example). Maybe use the last time you visited your parents (I guess this only works if you don’t live with your parents. And if at least one is alive— otherwise, pick something comparably mundane). Now…

What’s the first mental image that comes to mind? Not your conceptualized account of what happened and what you did… I’m talking about the very initial snapshot that your mind conjures up. When I use the ‘visiting parents’ example, the first picture I get is a meaningless moment of sitting in an armchair in my mom’s living room with the cat in my peripheral vision on the sofa across for me.

My question is: did this moment actually happen? Or is it an amalgamation— the brain serving up a compound-memory of various things it knows were present (armchair, sofa, cat, etc)? If it did actually happen, why this moment? Why not an instant later? And if it is an amalgamation, why not choose a more meaningful composite of images than this one?

2 Responses to “Memory: Weirdly Boring”

  1. krafty says:

    There is a theory that even when you are actually sitting there in the room, you are not retaining, in a “moment to moment” sense, memories of those familiar objects; even in the present, you’re filling in the details with stock memories. This becomes apparent when something unusual happens in the background and people retain no recollection of it; when you ask them to describe it, they “remember” the stock image, not the bird (or burglar) moving through the frame.

  2. Betsey Mayer says:

    Personally, I’m glad that for your memory shot you were sitting in the chair and looking at the sofa, not the other way around, as by sharpening his claws, the cat has almost completely destroyed the arm of the armchair. So maybe you picked the more attractive features. Visual editing skills at work.

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