Our Memory

If delusion says, “I have lost my memory,” contradict it. No faculty of Mind is lost. – Mary Baker Eddy

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits… Psalm 103: 2

He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered:
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. – Psalms 111: 4

Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not… Proverbs 4: 5


Through the years there’ve been several fictional films that have tackled the subject of false memory – The Manchurian Candidate, Total Recall, and The Bourne Ultimatum come to mind.  But this week I freaked out a little when a friend posted an article on Facebook that reported researchers had, in fact, discovered a way to implant false memories in mice: “Memory researchers from U.S. and Japan have, for the first time, implanted false memories into a lab animal… It’s already clear that people are able to form false memories. Think about that family tale about your getting sick at Disneyland—the one that’s been told so often, you’ve felt yourself ‘remember’ the event more and more over the years, even though you were way too young to truly recall it. Or, more seriously, think about how often eyewitness testimony fails, convicting people who are later exonerated through DNA testing… The team also performed further experiments that showed that the formation of true and false memories both set off a series of molecular changes in the brain that are very similar. So false memories may feel indistinguishable from real ones.” – http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-07/researchers-successfully-implant-mice-false-memories?src=SOC&dom=fb

The story gave a link to another story – this one titled Why Science Tells Us Not to Trust Eyewitness Accounts:”Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is ‘more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate recall.'”  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-the-eyes-have-it

Yeah. Soooo….

How can we trust that what we think we remember actually happened? How can we protect ourselves from false memories? Contrariwise, how can we make our true memories – the memories that we cherish, or that have helped us learn important lessons – safe from tampering or disease? And how do we distinguish the false memories from the true ones?

Were you expecting answers here? 🙂

Nah. I’m just trying to figure it all out, too. But I guess I could share some thoughts I’ve had about it all…

As a history major, it’s always struck me as interesting how people can look at the exact same events and see them in such completely different ways. If you read a school textbook about American history written in, say, 1955, for instance, it seems to tell a completely different story than a textbook written about American history in 1985. And I find it interesting – and personally disturbing – that some events – The Holocaust, for example – are discounted, by some individuals, as never having happened at all. It seems important to me that we remember The Holocaust – the lessons learned from it, and the heroism of those who experienced it, and those who helped others survive it.

One of my favorite books is a book called The Giver, written by Lois Lowery. In the book one boy, Jonas, is chosen to hold the collective memories of his community so that the other members of his community don’t need to be burdened by them. This really stinks for Jonas, and for his community, too. To have shared memories – of both painful times and good times – is comforting, I think. It helps us know we’re not alone and isolated from one another, but connected in our common humanity.

We build our communities, and our own lives, on our memories – learning from our mistakes, remembering and celebrating all the good, keeping loved ones who’ve left us alive in our thoughts.

But what if a memory is holding us back – keeping us from loving, from forgiving, and from moving forward in our lives? That can’t be a good thing, right? Maybe there are times when forgetting is actually a part of the healing? Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, tells us several times in her writings to “forgive and forget”  and Paul writes in Philippians 3: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s words make sense to me. There have been times in my life when a painful experience was so completely healed in my thought it was as if it never happened, and I’ve so completely forgotten it that I was surprised, later, to be reminded of it. One example of this is when my mom called to tell me that the mother of a third grade classmate had called to apologize for blaming me for things I’d never done. She was weepy as she told Mom, “Karen never did anything wrong. She always treated my daughter with kindness. I’m sorry that I was so mean to her.” What this woman was referring to was something that had happened 30 years before! I had completely forgotten about it. I was glad to hear that she and her daughter were doing well. Whatever lessons they’d needed to learn from that experience, they apparently had learned. Now they could forget all about it, too, and move on.

But to get back to the article on mice at the top of the page: What if the painful memory we have is a false memory to begin with – a memory implanted by scientific researchers or a hypnotist or that we’ve unknowingly created ourselves –  how do we discern that it’s false and jettison it? Speaking from personal experience, I’ve sometimes only discovered I was carrying around a false memory after a professor’s given a test and I gave the wrong answer, or after others showed me evidence – notes, letters, videoclips – that proved to me my memories were wrong. It’s always kind of an interesting moment when I realize I was carrying around a false memory. “Whoah! Look at that! I had no idea!”  And it’s always a relief. I can correct my thought then and move on.

Maybe, in the end, the only memories that are important to us are the ones that lead us to self-correction and reformation – and the memories that bring us closer to Love.

God is the only Mind. Our Mind is God. And we’re never for a moment, separated from Mind. That’s kind of reassuring, isn’t it? I mean… we can’t lose our Mind because where would it go? Mind is everywhere, fills all space, and we dwell in the consciousness of Mind. All we can know is what God, Truth, knows. All we can feel is what God, Love, feels. All we can be is God’s expression, manifestation, and reflection. There’s no part of us that can hold false memories, for all we can know is the perfect truth of perfect Mind.

“…you consult your brain in order to remember what has hurt you, when your remedy lies in forgetting the whole thing; for matter has no sensation of its own, and the human mind is all that can produce pain. As a man thinketh, so is he. Mind is all that feels, acts, or impedes action.” – Mary Baker Eddy

“…you will discover the material origin, growth, maturity, and death of sinners, as the history of man, disappears, and the everlasting facts of being appear, wherein man is the reflection of immutable good.” – Mary Baker Eddy

“When we learn that error is not real, we shall be ready for progress, ‘forgetting those things which are behind.'” – Mary Baker Eddy

“Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more”. – Isaiah 54: 4