The Mystery of the Human Memory

Would you want to go to sleep if you knew that you wouldn’t even remember your own name when you woke up? There would be no memory of the past or any idea of the future. You wouldn’t even know your own name. You might wonder why I ask such a shocking question, but this scenario came to mind after watching the movie, Embers. The movie showed a world that had been struck by a virus leaving people with a form of amnesia. People had to relearn simple things everyday and everything looked like it was in ruins and in chaos, because no one knew how to do anything. What a strange isolated place it would be to not have any memories.

The idea of memories pop up a lot in the media and in films. Sometimes long-term and short-term memories are separated into colorful happy little creatures known as different moods. Yes I am referring to Inside Out. Even though it is a animated film it does have an important message that every single memory, sad, happy, or angry plays a vital part in shaping who we are. So what is memory and why is it important to our lives?

Defining Memory 

the_unbearable_lightness_of_memory
Take a trip down memory lane.

Generally, memory is described as the process of storing information. Each memory from the past affects or influences what we do in the present. So if a memory is linked to an action, like been told off for eating the last cookie, it’s most likely a person will avoid doing this again. Well, maybe. Cookies are rather tempting.

Our brain uses three stages of memory known as encoding, storage, and retrieval. The way that we encode information can be visual through pictures. Now there is the term “photographic” memory where people are said to have a superb knack for remembering things visually. Although there’s no specific proof that photographic memory exists, there are some people that do have excellent techniques and they can remember things instantly. Another stage of memory is when we use acoustic sounds to keep things in our heads and this is related to short-term memory. Just like hundreds of song lyrics you can sing along to, or quotes to a movie. How is that we can remember so many songs but studying for a test seems grueling? I have tried to associate study notes with songs to see if it made any difference in remembering certain topics. I can’t say that it was an effective test, but the music did make it a bit more fun.

There are times in our lives where we associate memories with meaning and these are long-term. So of course childhood memories like learning how to ride a bike or your first day of school can be considered the most meaningful. Later on in life, we remember our birthdays and favourite times with friends and family. Then there are the more tragic times in life where people lose a friend or someone they care about. All of these long-term memories can last a lifetime.

Unwanted Memories

We all at times are selective of what we like to keep and what we don’t. This is known as memory repression, where unwanted memories are forgotten by pushing them into the unconscious. Although it is a controversial notion it is still rather interesting. If people try so hard to erase certain memories it can be stressful. Perhathey haven’t found peace with the thing that they’ve tried to get rid of in the first place. On the other hand, as time goes on some memories become less present in the mind and they can even change over the years. We move on to create new memories and experiences and the the old memories are erased in a way. But you might catch yourself thinking about a distant memory and it does happen right out of the blue!

Memory Loss

We’re lucky to have a functioning memory. As life goes on old age takes over, and memory loss can happen for some people. Getting back those memories can be a struggle. Losing that type of independence would be hard for anyone since it’s not a choice either. So wherever you are right now or whatever you might be doing, your memories are there for a reason. Don’t let them go just yet.

Summary

The human memory is a wonderful and interesting instrument where each memory is unique. The mind is a lively place filled with ideas and stories that are yet to come. Memory makes up our identity and sense of self. Maybe the good and the bad snippets of memories can co-exist to remind us of the obstacles we’ve overcome, and it can prepare us for the challenges ahead.

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