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False Memories

by Alejandro Rivera
(Chula Vista, CA)

First impressions are crucial in determining whether you like a person or not, but with old friends they always seem to be something grand. Ah yes, there’s always that moment you remember when you thought the two of you would get along so well. But it isn’t always that way, sometimes they remember the day as a time when you were annoying and are surprised the two of you got along afterwards. Not seeing eye to eye on things are is one issue, but this seems to be drastic in that aspect. But why is it that you and your friend remember things so differently?
Have you ever gone into another room to get something and then shortly after arriving forgotten what exactly you set out to get? Of course, we all have! It is one of the things that surely makes us question how well our memory truly is if it can’t remember something for a mere minute. Now imagine, what if rather than just one minute it was 525,600 minutes (one year)? What about 5,256,000 minutes (10 years)?
It may seem like a fun gesture to think you can remember everything that happens to you, but realistically speaking that’s just not going to happen. Human memory is far from a perfect thing and there are indeed great lapses in our recollections. We are incapable of remembering every minute detail of every event that we experience so how can we recall certain details in our memories? What we actively do, whether subconscious or otherwise, is search for important details to focus on and then essentially discard that which has been designated as comparatively unimportant. As a result, the vast majority of our experiences are just forgotten.
Since that’s the case, the gaps in memory need to be filled somehow subconsciously so the memories seem cohesive and make greater sense to us. What makes up this filler? Our emotions play a large part in filling in the cracks in our memory. In the world of science there’s the idea of something call a “confirmation bias” and it follows the belief that if you look for something, you are bound to find it whether or not it’s actually there. Under the same principal, you make exactly what you want to of your emotions: if you are depressed about breaking up with someone, you are going to remember yourself as being much happier than you really were; if you are feeling like all is good in the world, you’re going to think about past problems as not so bad. What’s really interesting is because of this your memories can change. Thanks to this, we actually create a recollection for ourselves that may differ from both what actually happened and the recollection of your friends.
Something else worth considering is that when Susan and I discuss meeting John and Andrea we shouldn’t have the same memory. To elaborate, no matter how close we may have been to one another, the sheer fact that we are in different places means the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells were not quite the same. As well, we haven’t experienced the same things growing up so we have different expectations of these people. What if I was close with a child named John growing up and what if Susan was bullied by one? What if the scent of Andrea’s perfume brings back memories of when I was chased through the forest by a bear on a camping trip and Susan lights incense with that scent when she wants to relax? The fact of the matter is that our different experiences lead to different expectations and resulting in different perceptions of the lovely couple we’ve just met.
After all, I could have seen John as a cool guy who reminds me of the good old days, while his spouse seemed nice but intimidating. Meanwhile Susan could have seen John’s light sarcasm as insulting, while Andrea seemed very calming and relaxed.

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