The Memory Illusion

Author: Dr Julia Shaw

Dr Julia Shaw is a memory expert and forensic psychologist.

Her research is focused on how memory errors occur. She has used her understanding of memory processes to distort the memories of participants. She's convinced people they have committed crimes that never occurred, suffered from a physical injury they never had, or were attacked by a dog when no such attack every took place. It might sound impossible but it is simple memory science. It might sound sinister but it involves no sinister brainwashing, torture or hypnosis.

Her book discusses her research - memories - and the illusion that our memories are what make us who we are today. 

She asks "what if you awoke one morning and could not remember anything that you have ever done, or thought, or learned? Would this person still be you?" It's a fascinating question. 

Memories aren't stored neatly in our brains inside a filing cabinet. We don't recall an event or experience in its complete or accurate glory.  We reconstruct our memories each time we recall them.

It seems we place a lot of value on something so fragile!

She says “Our past is a fictional representation, and the only thing we can be even somewhat sure of is what is happening now. It encourages us to live in the moment and not to place too much importance on our past. It forces us to accept that the best time of our lives, and our memory, is right now.”

"Our memories are constructive. They're reconstructive. Memory works ... like a Wikipedia page: you can go in there and change it, but so can other people." - Professor Elizabeth Loftus

For some people, her research might have us ask questions like "how can we ever know what is real anymore?!"

Can we feel happy and be thriving knowing that our memories are highly questionable? Yes! Perhaps even happier! You can be less of a victim to old memories and instead choose to be in control of your thoughts today.

For some it still might feel uncomfortable to think that our memories are tainted in a minor or even major ways. But with that comes flexibility. If we're faced with multiple interpretations of what happened and we have no independent evidence to help us figure out what actually happened, we can choose the one we prefer. The one that is going to be the most helpful in allowing us to live the life we want to lead today.

I loved this book. It explains the biological reasons we forget and remember. It explains how our social environments and self-concepts also shape our memories. 


Michelle Carlyle