My reentry from Burning Man this year has reminded me of interesting research I read awhile back. Apparently, there’s some evidence that the very act of recalling a memory alters the memory itself, causing it to change and fade slightly with each recollection.
The basic premise is that the human mind is susceptible to the same type of transcription errors that DNA replication and most other kinds of copying suffer. Namely, whenever you make a copy of something, it loses some small amount of fidelity. And almost like a computer, when the brain retrieves a memory, it makes a copy of it in your consciousness, where it is susceptible to environmental interference, from say, your current state of mind, or the discussion you’re having with your friends. Then, when you’re finished with the conscious recollection, it’s stored back into your subconscious memory in this subtly altered state.
When I heard about them a year ago, these findings immediately rang true to me. I’ve experienced the phenomenon many times myself, and it even seems to explain why emotional trauma becomes less troubling with time and counseling.
I intuitively feel the truth in this research now, especially, struggling to hold on to certain moments, feelings, and experiences from my time in the desert, wanting desperately to relive them in my mind, but knowing that the harder I grasp, the more elusive they become.
It all begs the question: how can we hold on to those experiences, relive their importance, honor those memories – without destroying them? It is a paradox of consciousness, and one worthy of meditation.
One way I am finding is music – which must explain why I can’t seem to stop listening to Massive Attack’s Heligoland, whether it’s in my head or out my speakers. Its sounds, I think, are permanently branded into some deep inner part of my lymbic system, forever destined to recall physical and emotional phenomena unparalleled in my experience, without having to recall the details of the experience itself.
Yet another reason to be thankful for music, another reminder of my ties to it – emotionally, genetically, and spiritually.
Be careful with your memories. They are fragile and mutable. Guard them with care, but share them, too. Just be aware of what you are giving when you do, and relive them in all their glory, lest you leave out any details to fade from future recollection.