One normally doesn’t tout the quarterly edition of an alumni magazine as scintillating reading, but I’m often surprised by what I discover in mine. Nestled among the names of those who are working on PhDs, or writing books or having babies, or doing nothing because they have died, are some interesting insights into human existence.
Because I’m among the oldest of the older generation, I was drawn to one of the magazine’s recent articles, “The Darkness of Memory Lane.” Daniel Reisberg, a psychology professor at my alma matter, has become an expert on the complex ways people form memories — which is largely by association and overlays of information. (Reed, September edition pgs. 24-28) Once formed, however, memory isn’t static but remains malleable. Sometimes we aren’t remembering correctly at all, but reorganizing our recollections based upon the suggestions of others. Discoveries like Reisberg’s are calling into question the testimony of witnesses in criminal trials. The worry is that these “evolving” memories can lead to the conviction of innocent people.
Recognizing how compliant memory can be has its unsettling effect in daily life, too. Recently I met a friend at a coffee shop in my neighborhood. I thought it was the first time we’d met there, but my friend insisted it was the second. I don’t much care for the place, which may account for why I wiped the recollection from my mind. No matter. As I walked home, the experience got me to thinking about memory and Professor Reisberg’s work. Suddenly, the lines from William Wordsworth’s sonnet ,“The World is too much with us,” popped into my head, an association that made me smile. I don’t deny the wisdom of the poet’s observation. How could it be otherwise? The world, it seems, is very much of our own making.
(Courtesy of www.reed.edu)