Watching Our Memories

Your memory is a wily time traveler, plucking fragments of the present and inserting them into the past, reports a new Northwestern Medicine® study. In terms of accuracy, it's no video camera.

Rather, the memory rewrites the past with current information, updating your recollections with new experiences.

Love at first sight, for example, is more likely a trick of your memory than a Hollywood-worthy moment.

"When you think back to when you met your current partner, you may recall this feeling of love and euphoria," said lead author Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "But you may be projecting your current feelings back to the original encounter with this person."

Memory certainly is a fickle thing. As we grow older, we tend to lose memories of earlier days, or they become harder to recognize or pull at will. This problem has happened to me countless times, where an event I remember pretty vividly is recalled differently by others at that same event.

It's not that farfetched. Sometimes we want to make the memory our own. Sometimes our perspectives vary to such a degree that the events are interpreted differently. Regardless of the reasons, our brains are malleable to our own emotions and very easily fooled in the long run.

Is this a flaw, or a benefit? Memories are good to have, but some memories are best left in the past. Remembering our lives in a fluid and changeable manner can possibly be the best way for us to think. It allows us to look at our experiences in different lights and learn from one experience in multiple ways.

Some would argue having memories be malleable is a bad thing. How are we supposed to remember our past if our brains fool us into changing the very things we want to remember? Well, I can't answer that for you.

But what I can do, is offer the viewpoint that our memories will come and go, and our past is behind us. Moving forward, we should seek to use our pasts as learning tools, and having an ever-changing past allows us to create a better environment for learning. This may not be the case for everyone, but it certainly is for me.