Four Truths About Memories and Brain Development

Serious Woman

Largely formed in childhood, our mind structure usually mirrors that of our parents’ or mentors or perhaps other influential adults. In childhood, we absorb all the influences from the people and world around us like a sponge without thinking about them. Time passes but memories remain. When we revisit these memories, the strongest are those to which we bring associative assumptions that may be sensory or psychological.

That’s just how our world is. Our brain accepts the input and forms associative thoughts around the memory, and these become linked to our unbreakable perceptions embedded in that recollection.

Our childhood memories often weave an enhanced or fictional tale of time passing. This raises questions on the reliability of memory, the power of associative thinking and of believing assumptions to be reality

1. Our own fondest or most horrific memories: Recall a memory that resonates strongly with you. Is it a sense of place? Or of a person? Your child as a baby? A house where you lived? Now think carefully of what else you associate with that memory. Maybe, fresh baked bread, a garden full of flowers, the way the sunlight from the stained-glass window played on the dark wood staircase, the smell of rotting seaweed, a musical performance, your baby’s first smile, your dying parent’s blessing? And what of memories of births, dying and death, divorce, or grave illness. What do those memories carry with them?

2. Memory and Associative Thinking: Discernable in each memory is the subconscious process of your associative thinking. Subtle forces undergird how these memories, even a place that one loves dearly, or a person, or a performance, is never only a stand-alone facet of memory. It is impacted and surrounded by many other mind structure inputs.

3. Associative thinking is never just a reflection in the mirror: Many authors, fiction and nonfiction writers, film makers, even those who produce documentaries and others who try to record memories purposefully to represent reality, inadvertently create but a representation of reality. They may not even be aware of doing so, but they work through a lens of perhaps, melancholy, longing, a haze of happiness, as well as historical mistakes and misapprehensions. If you watch a home movie or look at photographs, your reaction and that of others is never solely, “Oh that’s Jake or Jane…next…” But rather, “Oh that’s Jake, remember when he…“ “Oh, he never did that, he did this…” or some similar scenario.

4. One mind structure that may be more real, reliable, solid—a sense of place. A place is real, at least in the physical sense; we can see a place, touch a place, taste substances from a place, smell the scents of a place, and hear the sounds of a place. But can we carry those senses of place with us across years and far distances. Is place a reliable assumption of memory?

Many authors write of a sense of place. If a writer is a conservationist, their depiction, precise and lovingly detailed like a petit point tapestry though it may be, has a purpose. Environmentalism. Conservation. If a film maker makes a film of his/her childhood on a remote farm, where the father committed suicide and a brother died, he/she tries to share the truth of their remembered childhood, but inevitability the film will carry an undercurrent of loss and be fretted with sadness.

The truth is that time is never lost in the past but always carried alive in memory. There, events, and emotions burn as brightly as they did in their original manifestation. And we can recall what we genuinely believe to be real. But we still have to ask ourselves, if that is unalloyed reality? Maybe the truth is only present in each passing moment as it happens.

Janet Levine has decades of writing experience as an author and freelance journalist. Author of four published books, see details on www.janetlevine.com, her fifth book, Reading Matters, How Literature Influences Life, available in early summer 2022, see www.arminlear.com. For 29 years (1986-2014) she taught in the English department at Milton Academy in Massachusetts. She leads workshops and presents programs internationally on the psychology of personality, as well as on writing workshops. Levine is the founder and leader of several successful non-profit organizations. For many years an anti-apartheid activist, Levine remains committed to activism on behalf of universal human rights.

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