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Here’s a thought that’s been floating around my head for a while. Let’s look at the world as a stage play. Turns out there’s a difference between a) our memories of dramatic events, b) our ideas about scenery and dramatis personae.

I spent a finite number of days in my childhood home at Vikingavägen 28. Large, but finite. I do remember events that took place there. But I also carry around a model of the place in my head. Closing my eyes, I can wander around the house and yard as it looked in, say, 1980. The house has since passed into new hands and been extensively rebuilt, but I still keep that model in my head.

I’ve also met my closest friends a finite number of times. Large, but finite; and the number of remembered events involving them is finite. Still, in my head I carry models of them as if they were timeless presences. I think of them as persons, not as a series of remembered events.

Let’s say one of my friends got hit by an alien interstellar exploration probe and died. Suddenly, their representation in my head would no longer refer to a person of the present. Imagine the confusion in my brain when I would have to move my model of this friend from the dramatis personae to the roster for remembered people or even fictional characters.

And imagine the confusion in the heads of us parents, who struggle to keep the internal models of our ever-changing children updated. No wonder puberty is such a troubled time for parents.

And imagine the confusion of one whose well-known landscape surroundings suddenly change dramatically through land development or logging.

One day my brain may start losing its elasticity, and those models may no longer continue to be updated effectively. Then I will wander around guided by a gradually more and more outdated world map. The play will be in its second act, while I’m still thinking about the first.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Munger
    May 7, 2007

    Hmmm… interesting thoughts.

    Most psychology research suggests that the representation of faces is different from other mental representations. That’s why we still recognize our friends when they get a haircut or grow a beard.

    If they change too much, it becomes more difficult — I went to my 20th high school reunion and recognized most people, but if someone gained or lost 50 pounds, or if they had a radical change in clothing and hairstyle, I didn’t remember them. However, once I relearned their names, I seamlessly combined those representations with the old ones.

  2. #2 Martin R
    May 7, 2007

    I had a similar experience the other day when my son and I went to the Walpurgis bonfire in the area where I grew up. In the crowd around the fire were numerous schoolmates of mine, people I have seen rarely or not at all since we were teens in the 80s. I was amazed at how old they had grown. (-;

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