Truth and Memory – How reliable are we?

Last week, all my thoughts were invaded by memories of the last four months. As I tried to think about my hobbies, deadlines and my next meal, I was flooded by the events of summer and every day since. As the night grew longer and the leaves now a mix of orange and brown fell from their branches, I thought about the past. I analysed everything; what happened, why did it happen, who was at fault, where did change occur and what may have been misconstrued.

However, I realised that what I was really doing was trying to find out the truth. I was looking for inaccuracies and simultaneously attempting to reflect and be critical. Do you see why this is a problem? I was attempting to be self-critical and question my own behaviour but by also trying to determine the truth, I was arguably rendering my criticisms futile. There was a small part of me searching for truth in order to disregard some of my own critiques.

Nevertheless, I am still searching for the “truth”. How do we determine truth? What is it? Think about the sources we use daily to retract information and truth. When we watch the news, for the most part, we see it as the truth. This is due to its non-fiction genre, we automatically believe the news broadcasters are relaying information we can take as fact at the time of broadcast. However, we are still aware of the biases at play and how the media can be utilised to push agendas or propaganda.

When we recall events in a social context, how are our own memories misleading or preventing us from the truth? Our memories are subjective and to some extent embellished by feelings and hindsight. If we accept that our memories are jagged and we subconsciously (or consciously) omit information when we retell them, how do we value our own reliability?

This led me to so many other thoughts and questions such as,

  • How culpable are we when it comes to seeing things through a rose-tinted lens?
  • How much control do we have of our thoughts and our ability to be positive or negative?

The theory of memory reconsolidation talks about the act of remembering and how it makes a memory vulnerable to changes. This is why if you’re in a serious car accident your memory can be lost for a moment or completely.

According to neuroscientist Joe Ledoux, our memories are constantly updating themselves in order to ascertain their value, whether they should still be inside our brains. This could make them inaccurate, i.e. there is no longer any truth to them but, it probably makes the memory more useful or relevant for the future.

So, maybe the way I remember the last four months regardless of their accuracy will be useful and relevant to the future. Perhaps allowing these memories to be fluid and open to change will be beneficial.

Of course, on a more generalised scale, some bad memories and events must remain factual in order to prevent further hardships or difficult times. However, the way in which we think about them can change to allow healthy growth and progression. There are numerous experiments and technological advancements being made towards memory control (it sounds scary, very black mirror/inception-y) but for those suffering from disorders such as PTSD, phobia, OCD and addiction, they can look forward to a more peaceful future.

Have you had similar questions and thoughts? What conclusion did you come to?

3 fitting words for this post; truth, retrospect, memory

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