a guest Jan 14th, 2020 97 Never
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- "What is your earliest memory?" The question, casually raised as a writing prompt on an internet blog (ref), did not exude heavy significance. Thus deceived by its brevity and the offhand aspect of the website, I jumped in armed with nothing but these five words and a pen, woefully underprepared.
- The journey, at first, quickly and abruptly came to a halt. I caught glimpses of various memories as they came to me, aiming to go as far into the past as I could. Five or six memories later, I had ended up watching myself aged eight (?) cheerily skipping next to my father. Having landed there, looking further into the past I could see nothing but blankness. No matter how hard I peered with my mind's eye, I was frustratingly gazing into a void. It was a few minutes later, my thoughts having naturally wandered off to less aggravating matters, when out of nowhere ... Eureka! I had stumbled across a memento reminding me of a slightly older memory, this time at an airport. I understood that just like the lapse in attention required to fly after throwing oneself to the ground (ref), a lapse in attention is required to remember after diving into one's memories.
- Some hour and two dozen iterations of the stunt later I had settled on one memory that was satisfyingly old for the exercise, it put me at my grandmother's house, about six years old. I began diving deeper into it to have enough to write about; I placed faces on the figures surrounding me, recalled the fading details of the environment and pieced together other sensory perceptions. As the scene solidified a vague feeling of uncertainty began materializing in the back of my mind. Nebulous at first, it grew with every word of the draft that I was writing until I could no longer ignore it: it gnawed at me, screaming for me to stop.
- Was I remembering, or making things up? Was it really my mother hunched over my shoulder, or my aunt? I'm always surprised with the resemblance between their voices. Did my grandmother look that old back then? Was everybody really sitting there smiling? *I don't know*. I desperately tried to bring the untouched memory back, but it was too late, masks had been grafted onto the silhouettes, the scenery had set, the stage had been cemented, the memory was corrupted. Even if I firmly hold on to the belief that the memory has been altered, I'd inadvertently given my subconscious lies with which the gaps will be filled, and subconsciously is how we mostly act on memories.
- Many studies have explored false memories and their existence is universally recognized. Early research involved word lists and the induction of false memories by association(ref), the role of language in the reinforcement of false memories(ref) and the effect of individual's dispositions on the phenomenon(ref). However, a vast majority of these studies are conducted to aid the courts and psychiatrists in untangling delicate cases and theories concerning (what they call) confabulation are formulated to that regard.
- But how applicable are these extreme cases when it comes to the general population ? Can we reasonably extrapolate from the conclusions of theories stemming from studies conducted on severely mentally ill patients to say something about you or me? Does the average person suffer self-induced false memories the same way that patients of psychiatrists sued for malpractice did, but to a lesser extent? Maybe, but it remains that the scope and focus of these studies and cases make it so the elements relevant to us stay overshadowed.
- We can imagine how important memory is. It is deep-seated in the development of personality and intrinsic to our individuality, one can't help but wonder about the role that its rot and corruption play in these areas. How many of our past recollections are subsequently shaped by what we derive from new experiences ? and vice versa ? Since they're so malleable, do they even serve their purpose of preservation at the most basic level? One notable study that *is* relevant to these questions induced false memories in subjects using photo manipulation. Subjects were presented with modified pictures of various protests - such as the tiannamen square incident - and their perceptions of these protests as well as acts of dissent in general were successfully altered(ref). The findings of these studies raise many more questions. Are individuals likely to rid themselves of their deepest convictions if gifted with the ability to experience past events exactly as they had before? What role does attentional allocation(ref) play in the matter?
- For the moment, I find it futile to mind the slow inexorable decay in the foundations of my consciousness. No matter the answers to these questions one thing is certain : the subject certainly prompted a great deal of writing.
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