Most of us think of our memory as being a huge file of things that we draw from as needed. The common analogy is a filing cabinet full of folders that each represent a thing remembered. Forget all that. Science has very clearly proven this is not true. So how does memory work?
As it turns out, each time we remember something, our brain is reconstructing it as an entirely new memory. It is a lot like imagination, but more grounded. Every time you look back and recall your grandmother’s cookies on a cold winter night, that memory is built from scratch and changes just a little bit from the last time you remembered it. The more often you recall the memory, the more it changes from the true event.
It goes a long way to explaining why things never seem quite the same as we remember them after being away from them for an extended period. As a writer, this gives us another tool to use. Perspective is part of how we see the world of course, but knowing that memory changes with focus means that both protagonists and antagonists who’ve been fixated on something in their memory may have an entirely different idea of what happened from those who haven’t really thought about it in a long time.
Honestly, it might even be useful to us just as a matter of course. Remembering too often corrupts the memory. Our most honest memories are those we don’t recall for long periods until something jars that memory. Next time you are in an argument with someone and you swear you remember exactly what they said a few months ago, consider that you’ve been thinking about it too much. You may have stewed on it and revisited it enough times that what you remember isn’t at all what happened. Puts an interesting perspective on things doesn’t it?