Total Recall: Blessing or Curse?

Tribute To Guitarist Pat Martino - Scan 03 07Image by Mikey G Ottawa via Flickr“Wouldn’t it be great to be able to remember everything? To see all our most important moments, all the priceless encounters, adventures and triumphs? What if memory never faded, but instead could be retrieved at any time, as reliably as films in a video store?”

Given a choice, I’m happy with remembering “enough” and remembering selectively. Granted, at times it would be a benefit to dig deeper into memory–for a name to go with a face (the latter easier to recall than the former), for a fact to support an argument, for the song that was playing at a certain moment I want to write about, for the feeling of a conversation and the exact wording to know who actually said what.

Sometimes it would be a good thing to retrace one’s steps into the past. And other times, total recall would be a haunting and oppressive burden. This woman knows all about that as she remembers the smallest details of events. She’s not so good about facts–a detail that supports the notion that there are different pathways and brain regions involved in two distinct types of memory.

Memory is a frontier of knowledge I’ve long been interested in, so I thought this was an interesting piece from the German online magazine, Spiegel.

On the other hand, the selective erasure of specific memories is both promising and scary.  It can be done today in mice. When it can be done in humans, who decides when and how it’s used?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Methinks forgetting is as keen to survival as remembering. If we remembered EVERYTHING, then searches for details would become increasingly complex and slow as the body of remembered instances grows over one’s life. While memory may come at a low cost, sorting through the memory comes at an ever increasing cost. Pretty soon we would not be able to effectively function.

    I’m pretty sure that much of what masquerades as memory loss in our aging population is really just an artifact of how we organize what we do retain–as structures and generalizations. Can you remember the first time you went to on a walk in your woods? The fifth? The 25th? Probably you can recall the “memorable” walks, but not so well the ones in between. Is this a memory failure? Not really. It’s just how we tease simplicity out of complexity, how we remember what we NEED without wasting memory space or searching time on what we don’t need. That’s, I think, why the young remember everything they do. They have such clean slates to write on that everything is new an memorable.

    So, NO, I don’t want to remember everything. I kinda like the way my brain functions and scrubs out the pollution of non-significant experience.

    Cheers….and stay warm.


    PS, you’re not really burning those logs are you?