Time Travel: The Ultimate Purpose of Memory?

Most of the time we think of memory as being a place of historical storage where old information and experiences are kept. But another way of thinking about it is as a vehicle for time travel (see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Human Memory: A Machine for Time Travel”). You are able to travel to times long before you were born using what you have learned and your imagination. You can also project yourself into the future with science fiction or your own imagination. Actually we do quite a bit of projection in our daily lives, imagining what it will be like and making appropriate plans. Brain images of people when they are remembering the past and imagining the future show a great degree of overlap in the areas of the brain that are responding.

The distinguished memory researcher Endel Tulving found an unfortunate individual with amnesia who could remember facts but not episodic memories relating to past events in his life. When this person was asked about plans, be it for later in the day, the next day, or in summer, his mind went blank. Brain scans support this idea. When we think of a possible future, we tear through our memories in autobiographical memory and stitch together fragments into a montage that represents a new scenario. Our memories become frayed and reorganized in the process.1

So it appears that the ability to project ourselves forward in time, using what we have learned and experienced to guide the projection, might be the ultimate purpose of memory. Gestalt psychologists believe that in both the processing of information and its memory that laws were operating to create order and make information more meaningful. Emergence was an important concept in which new ideas emerged from the information at hand. These processes help us deal with the future.

Although our brains are working from the time we are born (and there is data indicating that they are working before we are born) to understand and make sense of the world in order to cope with it. In the early stages of life we are preoccupied with mastering language and moving about our environments. Consequently we rarely remember specific events before the ages of 2 or 3, when our autobiographical memories begin to develop And they develop slowly as it is difficult to remember much before our sixth birthday. We are also developing a sense of identity. When we are able to recognize ourselves in a mirror, we have achieved a critical stage of development. A child’s ability to imagine the future seems to develop in tandem with autobiographical memory. Obviously our culture and our families have a profound influence on these memories and our preparation for coping with the world. Our autobiographical memories continue to mature when we leave our parents. A ten year old can rarely relay a coherent life story, but a twenty year old can ramble on for hours. There is a “reminiscence bump,” where we are able to recall much more information that occurs in late adolescence.2 Consequently we are prepared or semi-prepared to assume responsibilities just in the nick of time.

1Robson, D. (2012). Memory: The Ultimate Guide. New Scientist, 6 October, p.33.

2Weir, K. (2012). A Likely Story. New Scientist, 6 October, 36-37.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: