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Monday, August 20, 2007

Fossilization and Memory

It occurred to me today that human memory is a lot like the fossil record. Those few vivid recollections we each possess are few and far between when compared to our lifespan, and there is almost no consistent recipe for making a memory. The right combination of sensory input, context, and repetition cause some snapshots of time to stick better than others. Even when we do remember an event, we are more likely remembering isolated fragments instead of a coherent whole. Then, like puzzle-loving scientists, we attempt to piece the tiny bones back together into a probable design. Often times we get it wrong, and our finished skeleton doesn't match those of other similar finds.

But like the fossil record, our memories, though incomplete, are all we have to go on. Even with the advent of audiovisual recording technology, the odds of having a truly important event caught on tape are slim. So we are forced to use recollections we know to be flawed to guide us in predicting future outcomes.

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