Trent Ernst, Editor
It’s going to take a while to process this.
Julia Shaw is a Canadian criminal psychologist, who recently wrote a book called The Memory Illusion.
She investigates the nature of memory and its unreliability in criminal investigations.
In the course of her studies, she has been able to convince people that they commited crimes that have never happened. She does it, she says, to show that the interrogation process can distort memories in consistent ways.
In the lab, she is able to implant false memories by simply repeatedly picture something happening. In her case, it’s a crime.
I was reminded how frail and fragile our memories are while talking to my Uncle Ronnie recently.
I had called to talk to him about mom’s passing, and he told me a story about how my dad had gone up fishing to the big lakes up by Flin Flon, where the monster pickerel live. “Me and Joanie went down to the lake right by my place, and she brought home a bunch of fish, and your dad came home with nothing,” he told me.
Or at least, I think that’s what he told me. But maybe that’s the way my mind has recreated the conversation. At any rate, I told him that I wasn’t much of an angler, and blamed it on the last time I went fishing with his son.
We had been bobbing for perch all day, I said, and, just as the sun was setting, we decided to wrap it up. I started to pull my line in, when something splashed 30 or so feet from the dock.
I hadn’t even taken the bobber off, but made a lame cast out. I started to pull and thought “I’ve caught something.” But it wasn’t really fighting like a fish. So I thought I had snagged some seaweed. But it was tugging. Not very hard.
When I reeled the line in, I discovered I had caught not one fish, but eight of them, on a stringer.
“I remember that!” He exclaimed. “I was there!”
Now, in my mind, it is just his son and I standing on that dock on that warm summer’s evening, the glow of the sunset justing starting to fade to twilight, with all the adults all back in the rented cabin.
But in his mind, he was there, and now, in mine, a shadowy figure is standing there. Was it uncle Ronnie, or is it just his recollections influencing mine? What really happened on that dock at Kipabiskau Lake? Did I catch eight fish? Did I catch any? My mind tells me yes, but is this something that I have fabricated over time and constant retelling of the tale?
I worry, because this is the realm my mom now inhabits, the mailable memories of my mind that constantly pull in new details while losing old ones.
Which memories are true? Which ones are hybrids and which ones are completely false?
It feels wrong, somehow, that my memories of her might be simply simulacrum: recreations, or possibly total fabrications that I’ve made up. Not deliberately, but simply by the fact that memories are stored across a network of brain cells that will cross wire to save itself some space. To adapt to new situations.
We tell ourselves that those people that we love never truly die as long as they still live in our hearts, but it’s my head that I have to worry about.
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