Until the 20th century, most people in the western world believed in objective memory, that what we remember is an accurate mirror of events that actually happened.
With the birth of psychoanalysis and concepts of the Id and unconscious mind, that began to change. Modern brain research confirms that not only do memory and imagination overlap, but that memories can be deliberately changed or altered. Such manipulation is a core element of The Cloud by Matt Richtel, a page turning thriller I started to read after seeing this interview with the author on Sciencthrillers.com http://www.sciencethrillers.com/2013/author-interview-matt-richtel-the-cloud/
Freud was ambivalent about the accuracy of his patients’ memories. At the start of his career, he attributed several several cases of hysteria to real childhood sexual abuse that his methods uncovered. Later he said that such episodes were patient “phantasies.”
The issue surfaced again at the end of the 20th century, with “recovered memory” therapy causing tremors in the field, to say nothing of lives disrupted by allegations of sexual abuse, in what is now widely viewed as abuse by helping professionals who implanted memories in the course of trying to treat patients. “False memory syndrome” still evokes passionate disagreement in the field. The AMA and the American Psychiatric Association, as well as the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain have condemned recovered memory therapy, and in the late 90’s, a number of patients who once believed they’d been victims of childhood abuse successfully sued the therapists who had led them to that belief.
Since the turn of the century, the “hard science” of biology has confirmed what most therapists since Freud have known – that memory is always mixed with imagination. The area of the brain that perceives an object overlaps the part of the brain that imagines the same object. In 2009, scientists implanted memories (involving smells) in flies by using light signals to trigger “genetically encoded switches.”
The day after I started reading The Cloud, I heard “Sure, I remember that,” on Marketplace, in which the work of Elizabeth Loftus was highlighted. Loftus, of UC Irvine, is one of the key researchers who have demonstrated how easy it is to implant memories, in this case using altered photographs. http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/freakonomics-radio/sure-i-remember. I invite you to listen to this timely piece, which is only five and a half minutes long.
Yep. We now something new to worry about – hacking at the cellular level! I’ll have to remember to worry about it later, though. Right now I have to get back to my novel…