People’s Memory

I was reading a post on Scott’s blog and I decided to do just as he said and look up something he was talking about.  Sure enough, all of the reputable sites like snopes.com claim that his memory is wrong.  He is sure that the incident with Johnny Carson actually happened despite any proof otherwise.  As I read through the comments on the snopes page, I discovered that there were many comments that were much the same.  Essentially, they were all saying, “You better recheck your facts, because I saw it and I know it happened.”

It’s funny to try and argue with someone’s memory.  Most people are rock solid sure that their memory is infallible.  If you are reading this and have never been proven wrong about something you remember, it will happen.  It’s the nature of the way our memory works.  Memory is so very fallible.  It’s influenced by time, by perception, by feelings, and by age.  (probably more things, as well) My memory of being lost in a mall the size of the Mall of America as a child is quite vivid in my mind, but my mother tells me it was a regular Sears store that I was lost in for about five minutes.  Where does this memory come from?  In my memory, I got on an elevator, met a security guard, and he bought me a coke while they paged my mother.  I remember this.  Every detail.  However, according to my mother, I turned right when she went left, so I was looking through shirts while she was looking at shoes.  By the time she turned around, I had walked across the store.  One of the employees saw me walking alone and walked with me out to the aisle just as my mother came around the corner and found me.

Where did my false memory come from?  I think that when the story was told later and I tried to tell my version of what happened, I might have embellished it.  Partly because I was always trying to entertain people, but also because my young mind probably couldn’t remember all of the details.  Knowing my parents, they probably didn’t correct my new story as they probably found it humorous.  Over the years, my retold story stuck in my mind better than the false events and became “real” in my mind.

I think all of this has something to do with teaching and how students will remember parts of what you say, but not everything.  Quite often, students will be sure I said something that I never would.  There was a story going around a few years ago that I called a student a “Ho” in class.  People were sure about it.  They were puzzled why I didn’t get in trouble for it.  The fact that I have never and will never call a student a ho in the middle of class didn’t seem to stop the rumor.  To be honest, I’m not sure what event created that, but I talked to a few former students who knew who it was I had named in such a manner and even why it had happened.

What is my overall point?  Mostly this was an observation, but I’d like to point out that too many people rely on their memory and are unwilling to look at facts and consider the possibility that their memory may be faulty.  Keep an open mind, because your mind may have let in a few false facts.

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts.

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1 Comment

  1. Scott Erb said,

    August 20, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Yeah, apparently others say it was Zsa Zsa Gabor. But here’s the deal. I was remembering old TV incidents, and I remembered watching that Johnny Carson scene. I tried to Youtube it and found nothing. I then Googled and only then did I see it was the stuff of urban legend and had been debated. Until then it was a memory I had. Did I hear that story at age 8 and somehow my mind made it into a memory? Yet I even remember the inflection in his voice. But of course, Johnny Carson had a style that would allow that. So, yeah, all such memories are potentially fallible. But yet, I still believe I saw it.

    I also remember at age 2 looking over the edge of a fence at the black hills, and seeing blankets and clothes flowing down a river — a steady stream of clothes just floating away down a river. My dad didn’t care, he was looking at buffalo with binoculars. Later when I told my mom about that, she said she remembered me being fascinated with some clothes hanging on a line. I guess my little brain didn’t quite have the schemas for constructing clothes on a line, so it fed me an image of clothes floating down the river.


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