Ah… Memories…

I remember it so clearly
It’s as if it just occurred
I remember every image,
Every moment, every word;
I remember every instant,
Every story, brief or long,
I remember it forever…
But I just remember wrong.

I can tell you all that happened
On a day ten years ago—
I can tell you, I remember,
All my memories, I know—
I can summarize my knowledge,
All the lovely things I feel
All these things are in my memory
But it isn’t really real

It’s a perfect reproduction
It’s the best you’ll ever find
Every detail, trapped forever,
In the amber of my mind
All the flowing stream of consciousness
Is trapped in memory’s cup…
It’s astonishing to realize
Just how much of it’s made up

If your memory’s often fuzzy
Then you might have thought it best
To believe it, when they told you
Half your recollection’s guessed—
But for those with minds of crystal
Those whose memories are clear—
Why, the thought they might be faulty
Is a foreign thing to hear

But the truth, or so they tell us,
Isn’t difficult to see—
We will manufacture memories
And believe them, you and me
And our confidence is faulty,
Though so strongly we believe…
We build worlds upon our memories,
But our memories… deceive.

So, yeah, TIME (remember when they were a magazine?) has a neat (though incomplete, necessarily, given the scope of the subject and limitations of space) piece on false memories–even among those with “highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM)” (in other words: not me). Seems the evidence shows (color me unsurprised) that even those with incredibly good memories are likely to misremember, and to systematically show biases that distort our memories. (Seriously, worth reading, and with a frankly stunning video which I cannot embed here.)

Even the best are flawed. Sounds very human. And it is. (Not that other species don’t display such flaws, but rather that it seems a characteristic of humanity that we do, despite our opinion of ourselves.) The evidence we send people to execution for… is flawed. As certain as we are, it ain’t necessarily so.

I remember being ready to testify in court as to a person’s guilt… only to find that I was looking at the wrong man. I remember being the person another thought was guilty (they were also wrong, I hasten to inform you). Memory is a nasty and crude tool, but we have been told that there are some among us who claim to have mastered it.

Seems likely they are wrong.


  1. Pliny the in Between says

    One of the many problems with our justice system is that so many people’s fate hinges on the imperfect recollections of others.

  2. says

    I worked my way through college for a security guard company, because working hours didn’t interfere with classes and I could study on the job.

    Writing detailed reports *immediately* throughout the shift was expected by the employer and the clients. I began to see the need over time, that my recollections didn’t match what I had written. The reports were essential when my coworkers were asked to testify at trials, often reading them verbatim. I never testified in any cases, but I did give a written statements to police several times, and the reports were definitely better than my memory.

  3. Linda Grilli Calhoun says

    May I present the other side of the argument?

    Even though memory is imperfect, if the memory is traumatic, it may be more accurate. The imperfection of memory is often the defense used by sexual predators of children, and other aggressors as well.

    Can you imagine being a kid who has been molested or outright raped and be told, on top of what’s already happened to you, that you’re a liar? L

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