Despite knowing better, many of us cling to the notion that memory is a reliable record and trawling through it can be similar to flipping through an old photo album. But what about the memories – sometimes vivid in nature – of things that never were?
Examining the false stories that we can create for ourselves is the aim of a new initiative led by artist Alasdair Hopwood. As part of a residency at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit led by Chris French at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Hopwood aims to explore what false memories reveal about our sense of identity.
To do this, he has created the False Memory Archive, a collection of peopleâ€™s fabricated recollections either jotted down after talks he has given or submitted online at the projectâ€™s website. At a discussion of the project at Goldsmiths this week, Hopwood recounted how he had hoped to get 50 submissions over the course of his year-long residency funded by the Wellcome Trust. A very low estimate, he soon learned: â€œWe got 70 in the first week.â€
Our appetite for understanding and improving memory is tremendous, and French is hopeful that the false memory project will raise awareness about the intricacies of remembering. â€œPeople have so many misconceptions about the way memory works,â€ he says. In part, thatâ€™s because memories are so infrequently challenged. The few times they are, he says, are in the courts, after anomalous claims – like seeing aliens or the Lochness monster – or, he adds with a wry smile, in romantic relationships. …
Hopwood has already been intrigued by the detailed and often bizarre recollections pouring in, but he isnâ€™t yet sure what will come of this project – whether the false memories should be left to speak for themselves, or if they will inspire works of visual art or a combination of both. â€œI donâ€™t want to make a work that is overtly illustrative,â€ he says.
An accomplished satirist, whatever Hopwood makes of these misleading memories, the results should certainly be hard to forget.
To add your own false memories, go to falsememoryarchive.com.
The photo above is from the following:
Boundary extension is a phenomenon we’ve discussed a lot on Cognitive Daily. It’s typically described as a memory error: We remember scenes as having bigger boundaries than what we originally saw. Take a look at these two pictures of Jim:If you only saw picture A by itself, then later you’d remember seeing a picture that looks more like picture B. If you look at them side-by-side, it’s easy to see that picture A is cropped closer than picture B, but if you see the pictures separately, then it’s likely you’ll misremember the first picture has having broader boundaries than it really has. That’s boundary extension.