The subject of memory is one of the themes discussed in a literature class I attended in college years ago. To be honest, I didn’t have a complete grasp of the topic.
Now, I’ve just read an article about the discovery of a drug that can erase memories, ala “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
What interested me more was the discussion on memory–how it is stored in the brain, what happens when we access it, how reliable (or unreliable) memory is. Lit class suddenly made a whole lot of sense.
The article said events are not imprinted in the brain as a single unit. What we heard are filed in the auditory cortex. Just like what we saw in the same event are stored in the visual cortex and so on. Even how we felt makes a difference on where it will be stored. Example, negative feelings are kept in the amygdala.
When we recall the event, a network of brain cells are “reconsolidated, rewritten, remade” to recreate what happened. Every time we access a memory, our brains are actually rewired.
“The science of reconsolidation suggests that the memory is less stable and trustworthy than it appears.”
In analogy, the article said a memory is not like a movie that you can replay with the permanent details, but more like a theater play that has subtle differences every time its performed.
Read the full article of Jonah Lehrer, “The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever,” here.