i thought about this tonight as i was driving around doing errands. a friend’s sister turned twelve today and i was both surprised she was that old already and surprised she wasn’t older. i remember her as a baby, and then when she was four or five years old … but then there’s no memory of her i can definitely pin down to a certain age, excepting anything in the past year.
how odd. why are there gaps like that in memories of times and people and places?
because some things i remember so vividly that it’s almost like a movie playing in my mind. i could repeat to you word for word, in some instances, a (specific) conversation i had almost three years ago. i could give you the details of where it was, what was happening, what we were wearing and what topics we covered. it was not at all an important conversation.
but there are countless things i can recall with that startling clarity. little nothing things that weren’t earth-shattering or life-changing moments. sometimes when these come up in conversation people say “i can’t believe you can remember all that” — not that they’re implying i’m making it up, but just that they are surprised.
i do not have a photographic memory. some things i can remember without paying attention to them at all, yet other things i’ll forget as soon as they’re over. many days i can’t remember what i ate for breakfast … but i could tell you where each piece of clothing i was wearing came from. there are gaps in my memory too, of course. i suspect very few, if any, people could remember everything about their life from the moment they started making memories until the present moment. actually, i hope no one can — that would be a little horrifying.
how does our mind decide where to put a pin in the memory banks, though? what is it about the way God made my mind that allows me to recall the conversation i mentioned above in such detail when the person i was talking to can probably not do the same (at least for that particular conversation)? what is the purpose of memories like those versus remembering facts and information?
my mom can remember faces and people in great detail, but names just fly right out of her head. i have a 50/50 chance of remembering the name and the face right away. often it’s one or the other.
why are there different types of memories within a person’s mind, and then what determines how their memory information is cataloged? how does the brain decide when to retrieve information we weren’t necessarily consciously requesting?
as to my memories of my friend’s sister (she’s a friend too, by the way), those make sense because the more vivid memories involved interaction between us, or action on her part and reaction on mine. she’s someone i see almost every week, but not every day, so when i think of her, my mind brings up the highlights reel. i could recount vague feelings or impressions, but very little could i describe in detail, let alone verbatim conversation (three words i remember clearly, but not what came after them).
then there are the “movie memories.” what is it in the unconscious portion of my brain saying “this is important; remember it”? and why?
it doesn’t make sense.
but it’s oh so fascinating to wonder about.