I indicated in the last post that I got interested in the study of memory for both personal and professional reasons. Professionally, I had long been interested in the question of how eyewitnesses would have remembered the life of Jesus, and how the stories about Jesus may have been shifted and altered and invented in later times based on faulty or even false memories. That led me to be interested in memory more broadly.
Memory is an enormous field of research, just within cognitive psychology. I spent months doing nothing but reading important studies, dozens and dozens of books and articles. It is really interesting stuff. Memory is not at all what I started out thinking it was. Like most people I had this vague notion in my head that memory worked kind of like a camera. You see or experience something and take a photo of it and store it in your head. Sometimes the photo might fade, or you might mistake one photo for another, but basically it is all in there in your head.
Since the 1930s, psychologists have realized that it’s not that way at all. When you see or otherwise experience something, you don’t store a snapshot of it in your head. Different parts of your brain store traces of the experience, and the way you “remember” it is by reconstructing the memory from these various places in your brain. Sometimes when you reconstruct the memory – most of the time, actually – there are gaps in your memory. You “fill these in” in one way or another, for example, by “remembering” what probably happened based on other similar experiences to the one you’re trying to recall. Sometimes that filler is inaccurate or wrong for the particular memory you’re trying to retrieve (you remember going to Crete but in fact what you’re remembering is the time you went to Rhodes). And sometimes there are very few traces at all (you don’t remember Crete in the least until you’re reminded of it, and even then it’s just a vague and fuzzy recollection).
And even more frightening,
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