“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
~ Antonio Porchia
Memory is one of the most, if not the most, important capabilities of a human being; it allows us to learn, critically think, and find complex solutions to complex problems. Also, the ability to store personalized information that is read, heard, or experienced is consequently what makes us unique as individuals. Your memories, distinct from my own, are what you have used to develop the concepts that help you navigate the world: your ideas of friendship, of love, of family, of society, of work, are all derived from your experiences throughout life stored as memories. Memories provide guide-rails for the future, however how reliable are they?
We can see the limitations of memory at work in courts, as the legal system is well aware of the inherent biases and potential falsity of eyewitness testimony. But I think memory, a subjective memory, is more valuable than a purely objective data storage system: it allows us to personalize our experiences, and make adjustments based of our our own needs. Prior to the development of writing tools and printing, stories about our history and tales of wisdom had to be memorized in order to be passed down. However, like the telephone game, it is inevitable that the message will become skewed over time. A memory is certainly true to the beholder, however with the possibility of memories becoming blurred or changed with time it is hard to say how deeply based in reality memories are. This may not be such a bad thing — it is believed that the stories of the Aboriginal peoples, passed down from generation to generation, were altered by the holder purposely to fit the circumstances and spirit of the times.
Can we therefore take memory as absolute truth? In many ways yes, in some ways no. Despite its limitations, a rich personalized and subjective memory is your greatest asset.
“Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!”
~ John Irving