Does Your Memory Define You?

Memory is a key component of our personality. What you have learned from your experiences — good and bad — makes you the person you are.

Sometimes we take memory for granted. Most people are able to learn large amounts of information when they are young. As a baby, we learn to understand and then speak a language. School allows us to learn all about the world around us.

But as we age, sometimes our memories start to fail. We might struggle to come up with a word. Or forget where we put the car keys.

This memory loss progresses even more in some cases, like with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Family members, forced to watch a loved one lose all of their memories, often describe it as losing the individual.

But is it true that it is solely our memories that make us who we are? If someone suffers an injury and loses some memories, do they truly cease to be the person they were before?

If it is true that our memories define us, what are the consequences of that? For example, if someone is able to plant some false memories in someone else, does that constitute a crime?

Studies show that what you remember — or think you remember — can be influenced by others. For example, people who witnessed a crime might be uncertain about some of the details, like what the assailant was wearing. But if even one person reports seeing a red shirt, then eventually everyone might become convinced they saw a red shirt. Does that mean our personalities are not as fixed as we might like to believe?

Does our memory define us?

Related questions: What makes something memorable? How much of our thoughts are our own? What is necessary to change your mind? What makes you you?

1 thought on “Does Your Memory Define You?”

  1. Does our memory define us? Of course. But only partially so. In fact, there is a myriad of things that contribute to defining who we are.

    Let’s back up.

    Some people say we are defined by the choices we make. That’s that. Nothing more. (I think this is an intellectually lazy position.)

    I believe, depending on one’s privilege, social and physical environment, and health (which includes memory), we have either constraints or opportunities, impacting the choices we make.

    For instance, I benefit from many privileges. For example, I am a white man. As such, I have both consciously and unconsciously witnessed how these factors have helped me, whether it be in my relation to law enforcement, educational opportunities, or being placed in decision-making roles — to name just a few examples.

    Also, a field of study posits that social determinants of health impact us significantly, opening up or constraining the choices we are allowed to make. This includes things like access to quality economic stability, social and community context, neighborhood and environment, healthcare, and education. While I have not always been on the positive side of such determinants, I currently do — all of them.

    And then there’s health. Since at least my tween years, I’ve suffered from chronic depression and anxiety. And, to the point of this question, my recall sucks — it has for several years. Oh yeah, and I’m getting older. Injuries take longer to heal; I can’t run as fast as I once did (this pains me); and, again, memory fades some as the years go by.

    For me, the long and short of it is that choices do define us, but we are not always responsible for the options we are given. Some are afforded privileges that others are not. Better social determinants of health surround some more than others. And some people are healthier than others. As only slightly touched on above, each of these factors impacts the quality of the choices we can make.

    So, I’ve barely addressed the issue the question brings up. Does our memory define us? Yes, to a certain extent. With bad memory often comes diminished choices. For instance, you can’t draw upon knowledge long since forgotten to help you choose the best of certain options laid out before you.

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