I’ve always prided myself on having a good memory. I might be able to recall a date when or where something happened. But lately, I’ve been scrutinising my memory and I realise a lot of what I have are mere superficial memories. Often, I only have the belief that I have a memory of an occasion, but when I attempt to recall the details, I cannot.
I was trying to recall the details of a residential training course I attended in 1995. I cannot recall the names of the people I was with. I cannot remember where or what we ate at meal times. I have a few cameo memories of the training and a foggy recollection of walking around a few bars one evening. I cast my mind forward a few months to a holiday in Blackpool. Except for a few cameo memories, here and there, the details of the holiday have gone. So, I’ve tried to recall more and more memories of events and I’m finding a similar pattern.
Why do we remember some things but forget other stuff? I suppose it’s natural for most people to forget mundane stuff, like a meal, although it’s often detail like this that I remember; I often remember the insignificant detail of a significant event but forget the significant detail. If a minor event occurs but you don’t recall it again quickly or regularly, it is gone forever. But if two similar events occur at around the same time, it’s possible for one memory to partially record over another. Even seeing photographs of a place or hearing stories of an event may confuse memories and even create false ones, for example, seeing a photograph of a street 15 years ago, may create an artificial memory in the mind that the street was actually physically visited. This is why Police take statements straight after a situation occurs before the mind has time to write false memories. This is also why it is best to write a daily diary rather than writing accounts/memoirs years later.
But, as already touched upon in the first paragraph, I feel the biggest loss of memory of significant and semi-significant events is the belief that the memory is there without actually ever recalling the details. I suppose it’s a bit like seeing a DVD case on the shelf and feeling assured that you have the disc, but when you decide to actually play the disc, realise that the case is empty.
I guess most people are not particularly concerned about losing memories. Indeed, some will say that they were there when the event occurred and that’s all that matters, even if they cannot remember the details. But I find it quite frightening how memories of experiences vanish as if they never even happened in the first place. However, I prefer a total loss of a memory than a near total loss of a memory. I find it very frustrating and suffocating, like trying to save a disappearing hand in the quicksand, when trying to recall a memory but only being able to latch on to split-second recall; not enough to positively identify the memory and attach it to the event that’s trying to be recalled. These split-second recalls are particularly easy to confuse with dreams, photos, and accounts written or narrated by others.
The only way to stem the loss of memories is to make a daily visual or written diary. This is obvious. Facebook with ‘on this day’ may aid memory recall also. Analysing saved receipts can also piece together series of events.
Hopefully, all of our memories are still there and something will be developed one day to retrieve them all. I never heard my Nan speak French, but after she suffered a transient stroke at the age of 97, she began singing in French. So maybe we never lose our memories even if we can’t retrieve them.