Martin Summerhayes (martinsummerhay) wrote,
Martin Summerhayes

Are memories really real? How do they work?

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” ― Rita Mae Brown

Further to the previous articles I have written on memories, 3rd Position nurturing and the power of memories; I wanted to follow up on the topic I briefly covered, that of:

Memories are “not real”, rather they are reconstructions of past events, recreated every time we try to recall the event. If you were to write the event down in as much detail as possible, then leave the memory alone for six months and try to recall it, it will in fact be different. Go on, if you do not believe me, try it.

I always thought and I believed most people think that long-term memories were thought to be physically etched into our brain; permanent and unchanging. Since starting on my Personal Change journey; I have seen and experienced for myself that memories are NOT fixed, they are not immutable. Now it is becoming clear that memories are surprisingly vulnerable, elastic and highly dynamic. I have seen in change programmes, people demonstrate the ability to change, alter or even remove memories. There are also studies in the medical world where they are working on the ability for memories to be turned on or dimmed with a simple dose of drugs. So in an effort to try to understand, I spent some time, trying to skim the surface of the science of memory.

The Science of Memory
Neuroscientists have long viewed memory as a kind of neural architecture, a literal physical reshaping of the microstructure of the brain. This is the textbook description of episodic memory (conscious knowledge of an event). At the core of the brain, memory formation requires an elaborate chemical mix of more than a hundred proteins, but the upshot is that sensory information is coded as electrical pulses and stored through neural networks of the brain. The impulses cause glutamate (one of the brain’s main neurotransmitters) to pop out of one nerve cell and travel across the synapse to activate the next by binding to its receptors, chemically active signaling stations on the cell surface. Ultimately the electrical and chemical signals reach the centers of memory, the almond-size amyg­dala and the banana-shaped hippocampus, adjacent structures buried on either side of the brain.

Enacting all these changes takes time, and for up to a few hours the memory is like wet concrete; solidifying but not quite set, still open to interference. Once the process is over, though, the memory is said to be “consolidated.” In the textbook description, neuroscientists talk of memory the way geoscientists describe mountains—built through a dynamic process, but once established almost impossible to reshape quickly except by extraordinary means.

The Reconsolidated Life
As you replay memories, you reawaken and reconstruct them hundreds of times. You do this all the time, unconsciously, with every single memory you have. Each time, you replace the original with a slightly modified version. Eventually you are not really remembering what happened; you are remembering your story about it.

In fact, you can go further than this, you can in fact take a story from someone else, imagine yourself in that story, replay it a number of times and in effect, the “reality of the memory” becomes yours. One of the key change tools within NLP, is the ability to use a timeline and combine that with a visual image of a cinema and sitting in 3rd position postulate, modify, or even remove the aspects of the memory that you do not want. Reconstructing every event and memory from a particular point, going forward in time.

I have a memory from a child where I sat on my dad’s shoulders at the local fun fair. It is August and it is the last evening of the fun fair. It is early evening and the sun is going down. The crowd is large and Dad is standing there with me on his shoulders and he has a pint of beer in his hand. The end of fair fireworks start and suddenly one lands in his pint - fizz! What part of that memory I have just shared is real? What is reconsolidated? The only part that I do remember clearly is the firework in the pint and being on Dad’s shoulders. I do not even remember where my brother and mum was. So the next time I go visit Dad, I will have to ask hime if he remembers. But hang on a minute, will his memory be real? Or will it be a reconstruction that he has stored away? Or will it be a reflection of the story I tell him......

Benevolent Forgetting
You don’t have to have had a major trauma, car accident, etc to have memories you would rather forget. For most people, though, unpleasant memories also serve as a guide. They act as as a frame of reference to not repeat either the circumstances or the situation where the memory occurred.

In my case, a number of years ago I broke both my fibular and tibular at the ankle of my left leg - to use an expression, “my leg snapped in half like you would snap a pencil”. I can still recall where I was; what was going on [I was walking the dog]; the coldness of the day [it was -7 degrees] and how I felt before [it was two Sunday's before Christmas and I was thinking about the forthcoming holiday season], during [terrified, afraid and alone] and after the accident [I was air lifted out of a field].

Memory Change
It runs through my head as a movie, in colour, with surround sound. The full monty as it were. Since the accident, I have gone back to the accident site, walked the same walk, and done the same activities, except of course, breaking my leg! I have experienced the fear, the visual, auditory and sensual recall memories and was more cautious, more aware and observant. Subsequently; I have been able through my own change efforts; to be able to dissasociate myself and in effect turn the movie into a black and white image in my head. The memory has not died, instead, it now acts as a frame of reference, as a prevention memory. Rather like a warning triangle you see on the roadside.

Rapid Eye Movement Therapy
Another technique I have seen, experienced and used is IEMT - Integral Eye Movement Therapy. This groundbreaking work was designed and developed by Andy T Austin. I will not go into the details in this article, but suffice to say, if you want to remove or significantly reduce memories that are holding you back, are negative, or so vivid, that they impact your life, then this is the technique I would recommend. As a certified practitioner, I can also say, get in touch & I’ll help.

Beyond all this talk, our memories are the essence of who we are. Our memories help shape who you are, how you lead your lives and potentially move forward on life’s journey.

I leave with a quote from the article that inspired this post:

Someday this new science of memory …. Already it corrodes our trust in what we know and how we know it. It pokes holes in eyewitness testimony, in memoirs, in our most intimate records of truth. Every time we remember, it seems, we add new details, shade the facts, prune and tweak. Without realizing it, we continually rewrite the stories of our lives. Memory, it turns out, has a surprising amount in common with imagination, conjuring worlds that never existed until they were forged by our minds.

To read the depth article on this subject, please go to:

“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” ― Karl Lagerfeld
Tags: andy austin, iemt, memories, rapid eye movement

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