Ed Brayton begins a recent post,
Jonah Lehrer writes about a new study of human memory and storytelling, particularly about how unreliable our memories often are, especially after years of recounting the story. Over time, we tend to embellish and borrow details from other stories, resulting in part fact and part fiction — and often even using the memories of others as our own, all while entirely believing it ourselves.
My own most vivid example of this failing concerns a three related events of which I was party to the first and last in the series but not the second. A few years ago, Shirley and I ran over a rather large bolt that penetrated the tread of one of our tires and then passed through its side wall. I changed the tire and drove to a tire store near our home. It was a Sunday and the store was closed. The spare tire was itself low, so we left the car in their lot and walked home. The next day I took “Shirley’s car” to work and she walked back to the store to explain why the car was in their lot and get them working on the problem. The technician was very surprised when he saw the nature of the problem. That evening after work, we drove to the store to pick up the car with a new tire.
Well, that’s the way it almost certainly happened and that’s the way Shirley remembers it. But I have a very strong and persistent memory of being there and seeing the look on the technician’s face when he saw the bolt coming out of the side wall of our tire. Even now, it’s hard to retell the story without thinking I was there. But on other grounds I’m sure I wasn’t.
At least that’s how I remember it.
There are all kinds of lessons for the student of ancient literature in sush false memories.