Memories- How reliable Are They?
When I was in college, I roomed with a very strange woman, and together we made the strangest occupants of our dorm hall.
Without even trying, we managed to terrify our dorm ‘mother’ into thinking we were witches. (or so I recall.)
I will state right now, I am not, nor ever have been a witch. However, my roomie later in life did become a good Wiccan. But there was no witchcraft going on during college. We were just two theatrical young women in a very bizarre college where classes would be shut down and all students corralled into giant auditoriums to watch fake healings. During that particular week, I took a puppet ostrich, a pillow, a blanket and the book Elmer Gantry to the never-ending pontification and healing event. There I read aloud the first page of the book, over and over, for a very long week.
I still remember the words: Elmer Gantry was drunk. Lovingly and pugnaciously, he was drunk.
If you google Elmer, you will discover that quote isn’t correct. However, it is what my brain recalls clearly, and I did read those lines over a hundred times.
So why aren’t they right? How could I read a sentence a hundred times, and still have it wrong? When did I start getting it wrong?
I probably had it correct when reading it directly from the book. But somewhere during the week, I stopped actually reading it. I’d just open the book and burst out in oration.
Thus, it probably started to change then. I also remember the cult leader, finally seeing me with my pillow, blanket, and puppet ostrich far back in the balcony, and sending his security goons after us, thus requiring us to scatter.
I’ve no idea if that really happened. Before I found out how terrible memories are, I would have sworn it was true. But now, I’m not swearing to anything.
The human brain is a terrible recorder of facts.
If you want semi-factual memoirs, write it down as they happen. They’ll still be wrong, but that’s as close to factual as you’ll get to the truth. Unless you are willing to walk around with a video cams & mics attached to you. That would get you closer to the facts.
Turns out you will alter a memory every time you recall it. The more you recall it, the more you change it. Thus, the memories you remember the best are very likely your most inaccurate memories. I don’t know about you, but I find that concept highly annoying and unfair.
As part of my ‘humans can’t remember worth crap’ blogs, I would like to share how I managed to give a friend a PSTD event without actually doing anything but talk.
In fact, I had no idea I had done great harm until many years later when Facebook came to be and we all reunited electronically. She reminded me about the time we kidnapped a cute guy named Steve, tossed him into my roomie’s car and drove around for hours before releasing him.
I did recall the cute guy named Steve and I’m certain my roomie had a car, which I often drove in, but I had NO recollection of kidnapping cute Steve against his will.
However, my friend did and the guilt of her memories had continued to grow over the years until it had become a major traumatic event in her life. (While she didn’t say so in her comment, for such ‘guilt’ to grow, I’m thinking in her memories we did something more than drive him around Oklahoma for hours. I’ve no idea what we did, because I’ve no memory of the event.)
Wishing to resolve the matter, I contacted my former roomie and asked her if she remembered us ever kidnapping Steve. Nope, she did not remember it. Then I contacted Steve. Surely he would remember? His reply: nope, but sounds like fun.
Clearly, Steve was thinking we’d be doing something more than driving around town, as well, because having my roomie drive us around town didn’t sound fun at all to me. She was a terrible driver back then and her constant braking and then speeding up always made me car sick….or so I remember now.
However, since neither the alleged victim, nor me, nor my roomie remembers the event at all, I let my friend know it didn’t happen so she could stop feeling guilty.
Want to guess how that ended?
She became very angry and assured me it did happen and it altered her life forever! She went on about the pain it has caused her. Then she defriends me.
Until I discovered how easily memories could be created, I had no idea what had just happened. Upon giving the matter more thought, this is what I think happened, but I could be making it up.
I faintly recall one night the three of us were in our dorm room, and I said “wouldn’t it be fun if we kidnapped Steve…” and then me and my roomie, both being of theatrical natures, would have created an entire event of fun things to do with cute Steve.
I think my friend got so caught up in our imagination, that it settled in her brain and later when she recalled it, the part of it being a ‘wouldn’t it be funny’ idea wasn’t retained, but the kidnapping was. And thus began the foundation of her PSTD event. And while my brain said, ‘You’re just making shit up, I’m not recording any of this’, her brain said ‘let’s record this. It’s a fascinating tale.’
My friend now lives in a remote place, raising llamas, selling llama sweaters via the internet. I hope, trauma memory aside, she loves her life, for I recall her being a lovely person and I feel bad about planting the seed that became her future trauma.