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05 Apr 2003

remembering
If it is possible for us to forget things we did or which happened to us in the past , then how can we know for certain what we did in the past or what happened to us in the past ? Just a question.
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Expert
CyberShrink
cybershrink

01 Jan 0001

AM,
As far as I can remember, that's a very good question ! The true answer is that absolutely EVERBODY forgets almost everything that they did or which happened to them in the past. Can you tell me, without checking whatever records there might be, exactly what you were doing at 11.15 am on June 23rd last year ?
Firstly, there is far, far too much to remember. So one's brain tries to distinguish between things which might be really important, and the rest. Then one's structure for remembering things is far from the sort of internal videotape that some folks seem to assume. Different parts of events get remembered, partially, in different parts of the brain, and when we try to "recall" what may have happened, our brain tries to reconstruct a picture of what it may have been. Loads of research shows how very unreliable such memory can be. We forget much of what actually did happen, and "remember" things that didn't happen. And what we "remember" is very much influenced, to a greater extent than we realize, by what we expect, and by how we are asked, and by whom, for what purpose.
We tend not to forget that we travelled to America in 2001, for instance, and probably remember the airline and roughly when we left ( unless we travel there very week or so, like a stewardess or polit, when it may be very hard to remember one trip as distinct from all the rest, unless something peculiar happened on that one ). But we probably don't remember exactly what the ticket cost, may be foggy as to the name of the hotel where we stayed ; yet remember waiting in the cold for the bus, and recall the pancakes we used to have for breakfast.
So, in short, we probably don't know for certain exactly what happened to us in our past, and shouldn't assume that everything we do seem to remember must have been exactly as we seem to recall.
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