Renovating Memories

 

Scientists now tell us that every time we pull a memory out of long-term storage, we then re-write it, and in this rewriting, it may get changed. This may play into some instances of what has come to be known as the Mandela Effect.

Someone asks, “Does the Coca-Cola logo have a hyphen or dash or even a wavy dash?” You might try to remember and picture the logo. Perhaps because the last option of the question was a wavy dash, you might think that is correct, and you store the logo back in long-term memory, but now with a wavy dash (Coca~Cola). The next time you see the logo, with its high, small hyphen (CocaCola), it looks weird, because you’re now remembering that lower wavy dash.

Another possible example: The Berenstain Bears came after my childhood. I saw some references to them and heard people refer to them, but never saw one of their books until one of my nieces had one. For those who have studied the Mandela Effect, you probably know that many people swear that they remember it as the Berenstein Bears. And usually, Berenstein is pronounced with a long E in the last syllable. I had heard the name. I had also had a semester of German in college, and we all know a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So, when I saw my niece’s book all those years ago, I swear that I saw “Berenstein” and wondered why people were not pronouncing it with a long I in the last syllable. At least, that’s what I think I remember. Maybe I actually saw “Berenstain” and wondered why it was not pronounced with a long A. Maybe the memory of “Berenstein” came later because of reading the Mandela Effect. Or, maybe the Mandela Effect is real and caused by a multi-verse that we flow in and out of as easily as we walk from room to room.

Be that as it may, I have seen other much more extreme changes. In most cases, I can justify them as people selectively changing their memories because they didn’t come off so well in them.

A particular example I can think of is with a relative of mine. This relative was born in the South and was a Southern Democrat. As the ’60s moved into the ’70s and ’80s, Southern Democrats were more likely to vote for Republicans on the national level, although often still voting for Democrats on local tickets. I know that this relative was still a Democrat until at least the early ’80s. In the late ’60s, for a young Democratic woman, the bloom was still not off the rose of Camelot. Bobby Kennedy was killed in 1968, and the last great hope was the young Edward. In ’69 came the Chappaquiddick Incident. My relative’s response was that she believed Kennedy had gotten out of the car to get some fresh air and walked home, and that it was Miss Kopechne who drove off the bridge, and Kennedy didn’t really know until the next day.

This is excusable. We see this on both sides today. People do not want to believe or admit that their political icons or heroes are human, and seldom the best examples of humans. People make excuses for people on their side. I’ve seen people make excuses for Obama and Holder. I’ve seen people make excuses for Trump. I’ve seen people make excuses for Republicans who opposed Trump in silly and destructive ways. It’s part of human nature.

In 1980, Kennedy ran for President in what turned out to be a quixotic run to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination, much as Reagan had run in the primary against Ford four years before. He came and spoke in the town she was in, and she got to meet him. I do not remember her having said anything negative about the meeting at the time. In fact, according to my memory, she enjoyed the experience and campaigned for him. Now, again, just because she campaigned for Kennedy over Carter in a Democratic primary does not mean she was for him. Maybe by that time, she just wanted to get rid of Carter in any way possible. I know she had voted for Nixon in 1972, for instance, but who wouldn’t have given the competition?

In the ’80s, she got more conservative, and probably also acknowledged that the Democratic Party was not the party her Daddy and Grandaddies were voting for in Georgia and Alabama. For the next few decades, she became more and more anti-Democrat. When 2016 came along, she was on the Trump Train early. And she was on the Trump Train hard.

Recently, we were talking about something, and Teddy Kennedy’s name came up.

She said, “I met him when he was running for President in 1980. Just being in his presence, I could feel that he was pure evil.”

Given what I remembered, that came as a surprise. I asked her if she remembered her theory about Chappaquiddick from ’69 or ’70. She did not. When I reminded her of what she had said then, she replied, “I most certainly never said that. I always thought he was evil.”

Someone’s memories have changed. Now, it could be mine, but I really have no motivation to misremember, nor have I been pulling out those memories very often over the ensuing years. Also, it is important to note that the theory that Ted Kennedy was not in the car at all was not something my relative came up with on her own. It was being bandied about at the time and still is being discussed. You can find discussions of this theory (and some of its history) on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8qypbj8W1I

There are also other theories, like this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4HCTnfnXGw

To me, it seems more likely that over the years she has excised any memory of having defended Kennedy. This could well have happened after years of the events being in the news and her changing opinions of Democrats and Kennedy. Every time she recalled what she thought and said back years before, it might have changed a little until it looked nothing like my memory of it.

Or, it is possible that it was her in a different universe who defended Kennedy, and one of us is experiencing the Mandela Effect, which is real. Still, I prefer the rule of parsimony. It’s easier to believe that over many decades that she reprogrammed her memories with subsequent information and attitudes.

Have you ever run into something where someone very insistently remembers something differently than you do?

There are 41 comments.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    This makes the 2nd time today that I’ve read an article about human memory and made a reference to the excellent @michaelsmalone book about human memory, The Guardian of All Things. The other place was James Taranto’s article in the WSJ.

     

     

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The stories my family told when I was little were always interesting, but the entertainment value was about to skyrocket when you heard another one chime in “That’s not how remember it ….” Hearing talk about the way things were in the old days was great; hearing them argue about the way things were had me rolling on the floor with laughter.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    Hearing talk about the way things were in the old days was great; hearing them argue about the way things were had me rolling on the floor with laughter.

    I can bet.

    • #3
  4. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    This was a big deal in my work.  Actually, it’s still a big deal – I’m just not doing the work…

    Some decades ago I think it was a Supreme Court justice who mused about the day when cases would be built entirely on circumstantial evidence, and direct evidence would be ignored.  Eyewitnesses are that unreliable.  

    Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D is the acknowledged expert in the field of implanted memories.  Read about her and her work here:

     https://www.ted.com/speakers/elizabeth_loftus

    The single, most disgusting example of prosecutorial misconduct is centered here as well.  That would be the McMartin Preschool case.  

    Here’s a request:  Long ago I became aware of a story regarding an explosion in New York.  Something like 20 “eyewitnesses” to the explosion insisted one thing.  A single eyewitness had a different story, and resisted pressure to get him to change.  It turned out that the one was correct.  I have tried for years to source the story.  Can any of you Ricochetti help me?  

     

     

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Hearing talk about the way things were in the old days was great; hearing them argue about the way things were had me rolling on the floor with laughter.

    I can bet.

    A classic snippet: “You? You weren’t there. You were inside putting on makeup and talking to boys on the telephone!”

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    This is interesting:

    https://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1040&context=ijaaa

    • #6
  7. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Human memory is fascinating to me. It always has been. It is partly personal. I grew up in a family in which people had way too much confidence in their memories of events and other things, and there were consequently a lot of arguments.

    I also had trouble in school with anything that required me to remember what I had read. What I got out of my education was that my memory doesn’t work as well as other people’s memories do. I think there are many reasons for my memory problems, and even within the way human memory works, I have problems in some types of recall situations but not others.

    For everyone, some of our recall ability relies on our childhood training. The kids in our local string program were expert memorizers. :-) That’s what I love about Suzuki violin training. Frankly, for many kids in schools today, memorization is never asked for by teachers. It’s something the kids suddenly are expected to have in high school, but the elementary schools do next to nothing to teach the skill to kids. So the Suzuki students are usually way ahead of the other kids in high school. No surprise. One of my oldest child’s friends in middle school had memorized and could perform near perfectly all three violin parts of the entire Eine kleine Nachtmusik. When I said, “Wow!” Keiran said, “Yeah, Mr. Miller likes to move me around so he asked to learn all three.” Wow.

    Having so little confidence in my own memory has kept me out of arguments. But sometimes I wonder if my own lack of confidence has been a blessing in some ways for me. I wonder if people with better memories than I have sometimes trust themselves too much. They are so sure they remember things a certain way because their memories are usually accurate that they cannot be dissuaded otherwise.

    I keep wondering too what impact the existence of Google search will have ultimately on how human memory works. I am sure it is affecting the way we think and process information. I hope researchers have identified memory studies conducted before the days of the handheld computer and tagged them for retrieval in ten or twenty years so we can tell how our mental processes have changed. It will be impossible to find a control group of people who do not use Google as a memory aid ten or twenty years from now. If we don’t identify some existing studies that we can repeat later, we’ll never know. :-)

    Fascinating post. Thank you. I enjoyed reading it very much.

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    MarciN (View Comment):
    Having so little confidence in my own memory has kept me out of arguments. But sometimes I wonder if my own lack of confidence has been a blessing in some ways for me.

    Probably. I have had some arguments in my day because of mine being so good. And then I wasn’t right. 🙄

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Maybe a better illustration for this post would be this:

    Reality Bites: Bite 45: Salvador Dali - The Persistence of ...

    • #9
  10. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    Having so little confidence in my own memory has kept me out of arguments. But sometimes I wonder if my own lack of confidence has been a blessing in some ways for me.

    Probably. I have had some arguments in my day because of mine being so good. And then I wasn’t right. 🙄

    Yes, most of the time you’re right. I envy you and all people who have a good memory. Your life is so rich because of it.

    I started gardening about fifteen years ago, relatively late in life compared to other gardeners. I have slowly learned what the different flowers are named. It has been fun. For the first time in my life, I look at china and wallpaper and now I know what those flowers are called. I think so often that I would like to go back and reread all those English novels that described the countryside and gardens. I just skipped over those passages as a kid.

    When you have a good memory, you are constantly adding knowledge and texture to what you know. People who know the Bible and classical music, the stars and the sea, their family tree, are the richest people in the world to me.

    Adding emotion and emphasis to facts accurately stored makes a human brain an extraordinary piece of G_d’s design. :-)

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    MarciN (View Comment):
    People who know the Bible…

    Might also get surprised. As I was looking up some information for this, I watched a few videos on the Mandela Effect. One covered Isaiah 11:6. It ain’t what it used to be.

    • #11
  12. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    MarciN (View Comment):
    The kids in our local string program were expert memorizers. :-) That’s what I love about Suzuki violin training.

    Great article, @arahant.  Thank you!

    One day at college, my daughter was approached by a psych major, studying memory.  He asked her to play a version of “Kim’s Game,” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim's_Game and she aced it.  The psych major was astonished.  “How’d you do that?” “Well, I play violin.  I’m constantly memorizing things.”

    • #12
  13. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    I was always a bit skeptical of this theory (because I have perfect recall, really, of everything that’s ever happened in my life . . . ) until I read this piece by one of my favorite authors, Oliver Sacks.  (I’m not sure if you can read the full article without a subscription any more, but Sacks describes a memory from his childhood in World War II, which he finds out he had completely misremembered, and the other is a memory from his boarding school that is wrong as well.  They are also described in his book Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood.

    Sacks was a British neurologist whose popular books described the brain and its marvelous powers of–well, just about everything really.  His book Awakenings, describing his experimental treatments for Parkinson’s disease was made into the film of the same name, but my favorite of his books will always be The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.  And my favorite story will always be the one he recounted in The Island of the Color Blind, in which he found himself on a small plane, puddle-jumping between one Pacific atoll and another, with a man he describes as the “Spam baron,” the guy who imports Spam into the islands.  Apparently they do a roaring trade, as Spam is an accompaniment at almost every meal.  “Why on earth?” Sacks wonders.  And although he doesn’t get an answer from the “unctuous Spam baron,” he comes across a theory a bit later proposing that Spam is the closest thing these days to what used to be called “long pig” in the Islands.  That is to say, Spam tastes more like people than anything currently available, so the islanders buy it by the barrel.

    Anyhoo, before I bore you all rigid, with any more digressions, I thought that if it was OK for someone like Oliver Sacks to admit to false memories, then it would be OK for me to admit to false memories too.

    If I had ever actually had any, that is.

     

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Percival (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Hearing talk about the way things were in the old days was great; hearing them argue about the way things were had me rolling on the floor with laughter.

    I can bet.

    A classic snippet: “You? You weren’t there. You were inside putting on makeup and talking to boys on the telephone!”

    This item came up when visiting at Christmas last month:

    My brother and I went ice fishing one very cold and windy day back during my college years. Wind chill was -78F under the system then in use. (The more recent windchill calculations would result in a lesser number.) We were comfy enough in our fish house, but the walk across the ice into the wind, back to the farmyard to the north, was brutal. He may have got a touch of frostbite on his ear, which was an unhealthy color for a while afterwards.

    My brother’s wife is sometimes skeptical of her husband’s stories, as they sometimes get better with time,  but I recently assured her that this really happened. However, my brother insists he was alone. Everything he remembers about it matches my memory of this event, except for the fact that he doesn’t remember me being there. So, even though he has nobody to corroborate it without my being in the story, he insists that he was alone.

    • #14
  15. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    Quietpi (View Comment):

    This was a big deal in my work. Actually, it’s still a big deal – I’m just not doing the work…

    Some decades ago I think it was a Supreme Court justice who mused about the day when cases would be built entirely on circumstantial evidence, and direct evidence would be ignored. Eyewitnesses are that unreliable.

    Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D is the acknowledged expert in the field of implanted memories. Read about her and her work here:

    https://www.ted.com/speakers/elizabeth_loftus

    The single, most disgusting example of prosecutorial misconduct is centered here as well. That would be the McMartin Preschool case.

    Here’s a request: Long ago I became aware of a story regarding an explosion in New York. Something like 20 “eyewitnesses” to the explosion insisted one thing. A single eyewitness had a different story, and resisted pressure to get him to change. It turned out that the one was correct. I have tried for years to source the story. Can any of you Ricochetti help me?

    I read a book about that case. The absolutely incredibly impossible things that were believed! Talk about appalling and terrifying! It blew my mind and makes me think twice about claims of various scandals/scares I hear about today.

     

     

    • #15
  16. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    One of my (now adult) nephews, told me, about 15 years ago, how much fun he’s had in his life listening to his five aunts and mom. Each of us tells a slightly different version of the stories of our growing-up-on-the-farm. One aunt would recount an event, and another would chime in–“No, that was not what happened–I remember that actually…”  I just think that we all experience a particular thing in our way because we are each our own person. Our position in the family hierarchy, our perception of who messed up or who was getting a special privilege, or who was supposed to be in charge right then totally affects our memories of our lives. 

    Imagine extrapolating that out to the entire world.

    • #16
  17. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    Mr. Weeping and I originally met in college – never dated, just knew each other. He was older and graduated a few years before I did. We lost touch. Once I graduated and moved here to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we re-met, sparks flew, and wedding bells rang.

    If you had asked me when we re-met how long we had known each other in college, I would have told you that we’d known each other a year – that he had graduated at the end of my freshman year. So imagine my surprise when we were talking about college at some point, and he mentioned having graduated in December. Wait! What? December? That’s right, December. He had graduated in December, at the end of my first semester – not in May, at the end of my first year as I had thought.

    Funny thing was, we both “remembered” knowing each other for a year in college. He thought I had arrived the spring semester before I did. (Nope, I was busy graduating from high school that semester.) I thought he had graduated a semester after he did. (Nope, he was busy looking for a job that semester.) It was really strange.

    • #17
  18. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    I’m cursed with a perfect memory.  I wish other people could remember things as well as I do.

    • #18
  19. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I’m cursed with a perfect memory. I wish other people could remember things as well as I do.

    And in any dispute of memory, you are, no doubt, always right?

    • #19
  20. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I’m cursed with a perfect memory. I wish other people could remember things as well as I do.

    And in any dispute of memory, you are, no doubt, always right?

    Clearly.  That’s what perfect memory means.

    • #20
  21. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Ask someone outside New England if he was a fan of the NBA in the 1980’s. If yes, then ask whether he recalls the famous incident when Danny Ainge bit Tree Rollins, thereby earning Ainge the nickname “the Biter”. Almost all will say yes. Very few will correctly retort that it was actually Rollins who bit Ainge:

    http://legendsrevealed.com/sports/2012/11/27/did-danny-ainge-bite-tree-rollins-during-a-playoff-game/

    Ainge, as a Celtic, was demonized by an LA-centric national media. Under that bias, people very quickly assembled false memories of the event:

    http://articles.latimes.com/1986-06-01/sports/sp-9002_1_danny-ainge/2

     

    • #21
  22. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    An intriguing essay on resolving cognitive conflict by renovating our long term memory.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under January’s theme: Renovation. There are plenty of dates still available. Have a great home renovation story? Maybe with photos? Have a terrible home renovation story? How about furniture, or an instrument, a plane, a train or an automobile? Are you your renovation project, or someone else’s? Do you have criticism or praise for some public renovation, accomplished or desperately needed? Are you a big fan, or not so much, of home renovation shows? Unleash your inner fan or critic. We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story with before and after photos, or reflections on the current state of a long project. The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    The February 2019 Theme Writing: How Do You Make That? Is up. Thanks for the great suggestions. I’ll likely use some of the others in March and April.

    • #22
  23. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Weeping (View Comment):
    I read a book about that case. The absolutely incredibly impossible things that were believed! Talk about appalling and terrifying! It blew my mind and makes me think twice about claims of various scandals/scares I hear about today.

    The things that were believed, without a shred of physical evidence, was beyond comprehension.  But the worst thing was what the psychologists / “interviewers” did during their “play interviews” (I think they called them).  The things they did with those kids were so clearly child abuse, on video no less, that I cannot understand why they aren’t in prison to this day.  That’s what planted the “memories” in the pre-schooler’s minds.  

    In other news: I’ve occasionally witnessed one thing or another where I could see a need to remember the event, in detail, possibly long after – things like accidents, etc.  When that happens, I get myself to a place where I can sit down alone, and write what I could recall, as quickly as possible.  Then I file my notes.  I have a folder entitled, “Accidents witnessed.”

    • #23
  24. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    One of my life hacks is remembering the names of authors. I’ve found it to be an easy way to garner life points.  (My kindle is not helping )

    Anyway … up until 2o years ago I would have bet the deed in my house that John Van De Kamp wrote Helter Skelter. 

    Those murders (Charles Manson) were part of my growing up – I followed the case in the oft missed Herald Examiner and read the book Helter Skelter in hardback -I bought it as soon as it came out. 

    Turns out Vincent Bugliosi wrote it. And I read it more than once, but somehow remembered the wrong author  

    there was a time I’d put money on a memory of mine. That time had long since passed 

    • #24
  25. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Quietpi (View Comment):

    Weeping (View Comment):
    I read a book about that case. The absolutely incredibly impossible things that were believed! Talk about appalling and terrifying! It blew my mind and makes me think twice about claims of various scandals/scares I hear about today.

    The things that were believed, without a shred of physical evidence, was beyond comprehension. But the worst thing was what the psychologists / “interviewers” did during their “play interviews” (I think they called them). The things they did with those kids were so clearly child abuse, on video no less, that I cannot understand why they aren’t in prison to this day. That’s what planted the “memories” in the pre-schooler’s minds.

    I lived through that case as well – I grew up in the neighboring town. I had friends that were connected to the McMartins through marriage  

    FYI – from what I hear, those memories were so successfully embedded that some of those children – now adults – remain convinced that they were in fact abused  

    they were abused – but not by McMartins 

     

    • #25
  26. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    The tricky subject of “memory” is why I never indulged my kids re “trauma”. Crap happens, tell the story and move on.

    I watched a sister of mine live through a life altering trauma by simply moving on, she spoke of it when working it out was needed, but she didn’t dwell. My mom and dad behaved similarly.

    I have a few young nieces who recount stories with drama – I told one that I didn’t want to hear about her trip to the DMV ever again. Ever

    I liken memory to the stylus on a record player – every time it’s recounted, the groove gets a little deeper. And that makes it easier for the needle to slip into that groove; and to relive any trauma / drama associated with it.

    • #26
  27. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    Annefy (View Comment):

    The tricky subject of “memory” is why I never indulged my kids re “trauma”. Crap happens, tell the story and move on.

    I watched a sister of mine live through a life altering trauma by simply moving on, she spoke of it when working it out was needed, but she didn’t dwell. My mom and dad behaved similarly.

    I have a few young nieces who recount stories with drama – I told one that I didn’t want to hear about her trip to the DMV ever again. Ever

    i liken memory to the stylus on a record player – every time it’s recounted, the groove gets a little deeper. And that makes it easier for the needle to slip into that groove; and to relive any trauma / drama associated with it.

    A lot of wisdom here.

    • #27
  28. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Annefy (View Comment):

    FYI – from what I hear, those memories were so successfully embedded that some of those children – now adults – remain convinced that they were in fact abused

    they were abused – but not by McMartins 

    You are correct.  As I understand, most of the children have now figured out that the things that they testified to, in fact, never happened.  But some remain adamant.  And one thing that continues to astound me is that, the last I heard, one person, the husband, I think, is still incarcerated.  

    • #28
  29. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Quietpi (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):

    FYI – from what I hear, those memories were so successfully embedded that some of those children – now adults – remain convinced that they were in fact abused

    they were abused – but not by McMartins

    You are correct. As I understand, most of the children have now figured out that the things that they testified to, in fact, never happened. But some remain adamant. And one thing that continues to astound me is that, the last I heard, one person, the husband, I think, is still incarcerated.

    If I’m not mistaken, the guy still incarcerated is from a different, similar case from the same time period.

    • #29
  30. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    I appreciate that @weeping. The subject of memories and how they are processed has been an interest of mine. 

    My dad had a childhood that would send any of us to a therapist’s couch

    His mother was a young widow with four children and she made my dad go to court and claim he was his older brother – for his older brother was working and the family couldn’t afford the day in jail and the day’s lost wages . So my dad went to jail. 

    I was privileged to be in the company of relatives of my husband who were raised in an orphanage. I’ve never laughed harder. One sister claimed she got breast cancer because the nuns strapped her down when she “developed”. Another sister complained that the nuns cut off her curly hair so she wouldn’t get nits. 

    You know what? They retold these stories and it was funny. No drama, no trauma.  Straight up funny. 

    We need to be funny again …

     

    • #30

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