In my First-Second Degree of Illumination bubble, I use a variety of methods to convince me of its reality. One of those methods is memory – where I write my life story. It appears that I experience events and faithfully record them in memory where I retrieve them when necessary.
However, things are not always as they appear.
What if my ego uses my life story as a convincing agent to keep me firmly within my bubble beliefs, unaware of anything outside that reality?
Elizabeth Loftus and others have pretty soundly demonstrated the fallibility of memory. I’m used to the idea that my memory is not to be trusted. It’s not that I’m getting older, although I’m sure that has contributed to my lack of confidence in it. No, it’s because memory is NOT a recording like video. It’s a mess of misconceptions, misperceptions, unreliable related memories, and emotions.
My story may not be what I think it is. It could be, instead, a defense.
My Life Story Is a Defense?
NO!!! I believe my life story! And there’s the issue – because I believe it, it makes the perfect defense of… itself!
My life story defends my current beliefs through the use of various methods of convincing. One method involves assigning specific emotions to specific experiences. Those memories with attached emotions validate my life story by justifying past experience with present beliefs, which in turn validates my story. It’s a self-sustaining defense.
Knowing that about my memory helps me “let go” of current perceptions and judgments – judgments based on the confidence I have in my memory.
Even in an event happening right now, I’m dealing with my fallible memory of it – rather than the event itself. My brain deals with perceptual input alright – after it does some processing (quickly, yet not instantly) that involves memories of related events and how I feel emotionally about them. In effect, my distorted recordings of events of the more distant past distort my perceptions of the immediate past.
“It turns out that emotion retroactively enhances memory. Your mind selectively reaches back in time for other, similar things.” (Davachi)
So, I say to myself often, “You MAY be wrong about this – so LET IT GO.” It’s not my memories that cause me troubles – it’s my confidence in those memories that does. I may then realize how I’ve misplaced my confidence – I’m much less likely to defend my rightness and more likely to hear another side to a story – one that may conflict with my own version and judgments of events.
- “Emotional learning selectively and retroactively strengthens memories for related events” Joseph E. Dunsmoor, Vishnu P. Murty, Lila Davachi & Elizabeth A. Phelps. Article available on Nature.com.
- “You Have No Idea What Happened” by Maria Konnikova. The New Yorker online, Feb 4, 2015.