Your memories are rewritten every time you remember them

Memories – A Story of A Story of A Story

How much of your memory actually happened? Are you sure your perception of reality is correct? If you can’t remember the details of a movie you saw last month, how can you be sure the memories of your life—those imaginary images that define who you are in relation to the world—are memories at all?

You make up your memories anew every time you remember them based on all the information at hand. That means based on your current condition, or even the current social climate, the things you are remembering have actually been altered by your own brain. It happens to all of us. And the more you remember, the more the memory changes as it’s rebuilt over and over again.

I’ve been thinking about this lately since I started reading the book You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney which dives into the many tricks your brain pulls on you that alter the way you perceive the world and yourself. Get this. How can you know who you really are if your brain is constantly shifting the things that define you?

There’s no way in nature, that’s for sure. Only human invention gives us a way of peering back to see a version of ourselves that used to exist but has since been transformed by endless rewriting. Things like pictures, video, audio recordings, and even writing are can give us that glimpse. But even that is filtered through your current mind.

So when you watch a video of your younger self, you can imagine the feelings you might have felt. But the more you watch it, the more your memory of those feelings are rewritten, gradually transforming into a numbness. The more you remember, the more numb you become.

Maybe searching our past in an effort to define who we are is a bad thing. I don’t think this is a fresh idea. You’ve heard the phrase, “live in the now.” Lately I’m thinking that’s more relevant than I ever gave it credit for.

To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about my childhood. There a little images here and there. I remember stories that I’ve told about growing up, stories I’ve told myself, but I don’t really remember the experiences. I wonder if I’m alone in this, or if others remember only the stories the way I do. 

Leave a comment letting me know how your memory works. Do you actually remember events? When you think back, does it feel like you’re reliving a scene from a movie, or is it far removed from that? Are you like me, and everything’s a story of a story of a story?

And if you’re memory is altered with every remembering, how can you be certain of who you really are?

This blog post was inspired by You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney.