“When people were accusing infants of having amnesia, what they were talking about is what we refer to as episodic memory,” Reznick explained. In order for us to recall events, we need to be able to make sense of the concepts behind them, and in such a language-based way that our adult self remembers information as well.
“For the memory of my brother’s birth, I have to understand the meanings of concepts like ‘hospital’ and ‘brother,’ ” writer Alasdair Wilkins explains.
And what about the idea of a memory that never actually happened? As adults, we often find ourselves questioning whether a memory was real or just something we’ve thought up. False memories do exist, but they begin much later in life. In fact, Peterson conducted a study in which he presented young children with fictitious events in order to see if they could be misled into remembering these non-existent events. But the children didn’t bite. Older children and adults may be creating memories as a result of our need to understand the world.
And have you ever walked into a home, a town, or even a restaurant and suddenly experienced an overwhelming feeling that you have been there before, but can’t specifically remember it? This is another example of recognition memory, which Reznick says is our most pervasive system.
It can start to hurt the brain to try to make sense of the past. We feel it, we make it up, we remember it, and then we don’t. Memories are a beautiful and still seemingly mysterious concept.
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