happiness is finding the place where being yourself is exactly what's needed

Friday, June 17, 2011

how do you remember?

Part 1:

I recently read a post called 7 Surprising Facts About Remembering, and I saw something that was, in fact, surprising:

Whether we see ourselves from a first-person or third-person (outsider) perspective in our memories may depend on whether we are male or female, Asian or Causasian. Women more often see themselves as though from the outside.

Wait. What?

That blew my mind. I kept thinking about it as I went for my walk that day. How on earth is it even possible to remember something in the third person? Does anyone who's reading this do that? I really really really want to know.

I don't know if these are dumb questions or not, but here goes. What does it look like? Is it like an out of body experience? Are you watching yourself from somewhere else in the scene, watching things play out from somewhere other than behind your eyes? Like through a window? And, then, does your brain fill in the rest of the scene, since you can't really "remember" what you weren't actually seeing, right (though we all know our brain takes liberties with that sort of thing)?

Or, am I getting it all wrong? Does it mean you're actually picturing the scene in the third person or are you only relating things in the third person, using words like "she" instead of "I" because you don't really associate with your past self?

But, if you see things in your memory in the third person, do you also dream in the third person?What about daydreams? Memories and dreams and daydreams are all pretty closely related. At least, they're made up of pictures, feelings, and other sensations in our minds. So, when you dream, are you actually watching yourself walking through these dream scenes, as if your spirit is watching/guiding your body through it?

Part 2:

Pat Tillet's recent post at Extremely Overdue shows his granddaughter making what looks like a "Oh really? So that's what we're doing?" face, with a posture to match. And I was thinking about how much character, how much personality, people can exhibit at even such a young age.

I remember seeing a video of a 3 year old me pretending to be a rabbit. I smiled, because I could see my personality in my eyes. I could almost tell what I'd been thinking. It surprised me because, before seeing the video, I hadn't realized I'd had a bit of my personality already at 3 years old.

But, I shouldn't have been surprised. We all know that children have personality. If we can remember some of the thoughts we had in gradeschool, then it makes sense that we would have been thinking similarly earlier than that, during those years we can't remember.

For me, it's knowing my own conscious thoughts that give me a sense of identity. (I would've thought it was the same for everyone, but statements like the one above sometimes jar me into realizing that our minds don't necessarily do all the same things.)

If we didn't remember ourselves as our own personalities, we'd be looking back into our own memories and pointing not at "me" but "a child." And we'd remember those around us as "other children." But in our memory, our classmates aren't "other children." They're "the people we know." We have thoughts about them. We recognize them. We recognize not only how they look, but how they act. Personality.

But, does this differ for those who remember things in the third person? Most importantly, does remembering things in the third person mean that you remember more of what's going on around you than what you're thinking?

If so, it stands to reason that you wouldn't recognize those around you as individual people, based on what you may have been thinking about them. You'd only be recognizing them by appearance.

Or am I way off?

Or is it strange that I remember my thoughts better than anything else?

I admit, I don't seem to have as many memories as most of the people I talk to. For instance, if you ask me to remember something from first grade, this is the only thing that comes up:

It's the first day of class. I'm looking around from my seat at all my classmates, identifying all the kids I met in kindergarten last year. A boy sitting near me looks different. He must be Tony, because everyone else is accounted for. I say "Hi, Tony." He tells me his name is actually Scott. I get embarrassed, so I turn and say hi to Billy, instead. I know Billy for sure. He's one of the boys that's always nice.

Later, of course, I learned that the kid I was looking for, Tony, had needed to retake kindergarten. Scott was a new student. I prize memories like this, where I can actually point out having learned something. In this case, I was beginning to realize I shouldn't just assume I knew things until I had the facts.

What I'd like to point out now is that, in my memory, I know Billy is nice. If I were remembering this scene from the third person, instead of from my own eyes and thoughts, would I know "Billy is nice"? Would the memory itself just show me a scene of some children sitting together and me greeting the ones nearest me? Would some other part of my brain relay the information that Billy is nice, as a fact stored in some other place, since I'm not inside my own mind to hear it?

Or would I know I thought Billy was nice at all? Would I only see children sitting together and not identify anything about their personalities, aside from stuff I may have learned about them later?

And, if I had this type of memory, would I remember more about the setting? If I remembered things in this way, would I remember more in general? But how much of that would be actual memory, as opposed to my brain just filling things in?


  1. Deep stuff Ven...
    I'm with you, when I recall something relating to one of my own experiences, I remember it as me, just like when it happened the first time. If I think about a kid I knew or had a class with, I think about that kid JUST like I did when it happened. I can't imagine what my memories would be like, if I viewed them as an outsider.

  2. When I look back on my memories, I see them as if I'm standing in the corner watching myself. A little strange I guess. Happy Birthday!!!