I Remember It Well
We are all pathological liars. Our brains are designed to make us always "feel" as if our recollections are true, regardless of whether or not they actually occurred. In fact, science has proven that a memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it, and that the more you remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes.
Pretty powerful stuff. It brings to mind a song from the 1958 movie, "Gigi", where Maurice Chevalier sings, "I Remember It Well". If you have never seen this charming musical interaction, it is between two "older" individuals, who do not agree on the details of their first date. Of course, with his undeniable charm, Maurice manages to agree with his former love, even though he openly disagrees. I love it. (Men, take a lesson from Mr. Chevalier.)
The subject of memory has recently become a topic of conversation between me and my British blogging counterpart, Sj. She is in the throes of promoting a new movie that deals with this very topic. Interestingly enough, as I write a book that is based on my parent's love story and family history, I have personally been thrown into a trip down memory lane.
As I sift through old family photos, some of which portray folks that are unidentified, yet related, I look to my ancestral past, recollecting my own memories of those who are now gone, and whose histories are a part of my life. I recall good times and bad, but , in the end, have discovered that I have modified those memories to fit the moment that I live in now. This is why my book is reality-based fiction.
Face it, memories are random, and often strange. Marcel Proust once wrote, "The past is never past. As long as we are alive, our memories remain wonderfully volatile. In their mercurial mirror, we see ourselves." Jonah Lehrer, in his book, Proust Was A Neuroscientist, writes that Proust believed that, "we must misremember something in order to remember it." In other words, our mind is constantly reincarnating itself. It is ongoing and ever changing.
Lehrer writes that, "scientists have discovered that our brain is full of neurons that never touch, yet are responsible for brain activity. The spaces between these neurons are called synaptic clefts, and the area between these neurons is subject to change." Brain research has gained much knowledge of how those spaces effect memory, and how a memory is created, but only time will tell why our memories are "purely fiction."
My brother and oldest sister recall a set of parents that barely resemble the two that raised me. In fact, upon reading the love letters that my father wrote to my mother back in the 1940's, my sister remarked, "I had no idea that our father had such love in his heart." She remembered a different father than I did. For me, my father will remain tall, dark and handsome, with a smile that made women swoon.
Sigmund Freud coined the term, "Nachtraglickeit", to describe the phenomenon of transference. He surmised that we take memories of childhood trauma, and retell them at a later time in life, renamed with different characters, and through the eyes and ears of an older person. We create another version of a story, to meet the needs of our current situations and issues. Our past is actually quite different, but our memories disobey logic.
Hans W. Leowald, M.D., an early 20th Century psychiatrist, tells us that, "the ghosts of the underground that awaken, taste the blood of recognition and haunt us in ways not fully understood, gradually become ancestors, buried, and much less important." It really makes me think about my life, and question, "Who am I?"
The entire concept frightens me a bit. Could Proust be correct? Should we, "Treat the reality of our memories carefully, and with a degree of skepticism"? Proust contended that there was no need to keep track of the lies of our memories, as, "Every memory is full of errors." Am I really full of unintentional deceit?
Science has also discovered that most memories are triggered by taste and smell, and that exposure to certain combinations of these two senses can actually trigger "moments bienheureux", or fortunate moments. Author Jonah Lehrer, cites them as, "the blinding epiphanies that one experiences, like a beautiful apparition, and inspires an intense creative flare."
I happen to experience these "fortunate moments" on occasion, and revel in the rapture as they burn through my brain, carving new tattoos on my inner soul. Are these memories real? Of course they are. At least in my mind. And, who are you?
A figment of your own revisionist history?
Think about it. I do.