As I wrote in a recent blog post, moments of extreme emotional intensity can trigger indelibly vivid memories. I cited the case of a reader, Alice from Jupiter, who wrote that she could clearly recall a number of thoughts racing through her head as a fatal accident unfolded. I took her at her word. But how can we be sure that this kind of intense memories is accurate? As reader Sarah writes on her blog at the Pratt Institute,
Did Alice from Jupiter really ask herself all of those questions before the car hit her, or did her mind plant them there as she relived the moment over and over? I would imagine that most New Yorkers also felt a lesser but still extremely high sense of danger and fear after first hearing about 9/11, but even these memories have proven to be susceptible to distortion over time.
The point is well taken. Though memory feels like a straightforward function — something happens, our mind registers and stores it — in fact it’s a dynamic process. Each time we access a piece of information, we’re likely to change it. A memory that seems crystal clear could very well be wrong. Read the rest of this entry »