If you try to think about the last talk that you gave to a large audience, you might recall feeling a bit anxious standing in front of the audience. You might remember people looking at you and how the room looked like. This memory feels complete. Yet, you don’t recall the actual faces of the people in the room, or the details of the room, or the exact setup. This is the magic of memory. Memory is reconstructive.
This particular aspect of memory is one of the many aspects of memory addressed in the book from Hilde and Ylva Østby, “Adventures in Memory: the Science and Secrets of Remembering and Forgetting“. The title is well chosen. The book takes you into a journey about memory, explaining some facets of memory in a tone mixing popular science, journalism, and story telling. Originally written in danish, the cultural references in the book make you travel a bit in scandinavia. It was a refreshing change.
Beside the fact that mermoy is reconstructive, you will learn in the book for instance the difference bewteen semantic and episodic memory; how memory is triggered by places or music; that some people have weird perceptual experiences like synesthesia; techniques to learn random digits; the role of false memories in the judicial system; how remembering and dreaming trigger the same brain activity; what post traumatic disorder really is; and get a confirmation that forgetting things is normal.
I probably actually have already forgotten a lot of details of the book and the list in the paragraph above is far from exhaustive.
As a teenager I always wondered how come that some friends could recall and tell stories way better than me. It turns out I have now the explanation. Our memory isn’t a functional unit that’s identical in every individual. Everybody has a different memory that profoundly shapes who we are and how we experience the world. Mermoy isn’t only about storing facts, it’s also intimately tied to our perception and imagination.
Maybe memory has always fascinated me without me realising it: some of my favourite movies are Be Kind Rewind or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But funilly I had never read anything about how memory works. I’m glad I bumped on this book by serendipity.