Knowledge Questions: What role does memory play in our lives? What is the relationship between memory and personal identity? To what extent are our memories reliable?
“The ‘real you’ is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want”
When we create personal narratives, we rely on a psychological screening mechanism, dubbed the monitoring system, which labels certain mental concepts as memories, but not others. Concepts that are rather vivid and rich in detail and emotion – episodes we can re-experience – are more likely to be marked as memories.
Dementia undermines all of our philosophical assumptions about the coherence of the self. But that might be a good thing
Dementia is troubling because, at the same time as it erodes someone’s memory, it also eats away at this capacity to create shared meaning. If someone cannot remember not just where the milk bottle goes, but what a milk bottle is for, then the shared pre-suppositions on which communication, meaning and identity depend become badly strained.
“Researchers find evidence that neural systems actively remove memories, which suggests that forgetting may be the default mode of the brain.”
“Without forgetting, we would have no memory at all,” said Oliver Hardt, who studies memory and forgetting at McGill University in Montreal. If we remembered everything, he said, we would be completely inefficient because our brains would always be swamped with superfluous memories. “I believe that the brain acts as a promiscuous encoding device,” he said, noting that at night many people can recall even the most mundane events of their day in detail, but then they forget them in the following days or weeks.
New research has shown that your memory is like a Wikipedia entry – you can get in there and edit it whenever you want, but so can other people.
Click on image for full cartoon
Writing history is an act of interpretation based on the past. Creating art about history further separates past events from the final work.
What happens when an artwork tells a story that distorts an actual event? What if that “distorted” artwork communicates a historical “truth”?
Below is a famous image from a civil rights protest in Birmingham. The image tells a powerful story. It turns out that the actual events leading up to the image and the people involved tell a much different story than one we would infer simply by looking at the image.
There is a sculpture, based on the above image, that tells an even more dramatic story pictured below. What does it mean if the artwork, though powerful, does not accurately tell the actual story of the events it is depicting? What if it tells the truth of the brutality of the crackdown on the civil rights movement through inaccurately depicting an event? What does all this say about the power of artwork? The connection between history and art?
Below is a link to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast that discusses these issues and is where I found this story.
I found another blog post discussing these issues in greater detail. Really interesting discussion as well in the comments section.
When the Truth Gets in the Way of the Story You Want to Tell
“Put simply, we don’t like complicated stories. We like our stories cleaned up and sanitized and well tailored for public consumption. We like heroic knights vs. evil villains. We like incorrigible racists and bigots vs. tolerant human rights champions. We like credulous believers vs. rational freethinkers. We like medieval jihadis vs. freedom fighters. We like damned vs. saved. We like lazy welfare sponges vs. hardworking taxpayers. We like sinners and saints and darkness and light and red and blue and black and white. And if reality doesn’t serve up the story that we want? If the truth turns out to be a bit blurrier and more inconvenient than we’d prefer? Well, we’ll just tell the story how we want to.”
“Instead, researchers believe memories form in the connections between neurons and across neural networks. Each neuron sprouts extensions like train lines from a commuter hub, looping in about a thousand other nerve cells neurons. This architecture, it is thought, makes the elements of memories available across the whole tangled web. As such, the concept of a blue sky, say, can show up in countless, notionally discrete memories of outdoor scenes.
“Reber calls this effect “exponential storage,” and with it the brain’s memory capacity “goes through the roof.” ”
“AMERICANS BORN IN the United States are more murderous than undocumented immigrants. Fighting words, I know. But why? After all, that’s just what the numbers say.
“Still, be honest: you wouldn’t linger over a story with that headline. It’s “dog bites man.” It’s the norm. And norms aren’t news. Instead, you’ll see two dozen reporters flock to a single burning trash can during an Inauguration protest. The aberrant occurrence is the story you’ll read and the picture you’ll see. It’s news because it’s new.