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Poor Will's Almanack: May 13 - 19, 2014

Charles Kaiser
Flickr Creative Commons

I have long been aware of the inconsistency of my memory in matters of the seasons and weather, as well as in my relationships with people.

Recent studies in neuroscience seem to support my personal hunch that my mind is spinning the past more than just a little.

The gist of current research, at least for my purposes, is that the hippocampus, a portion of the brain that contributes to spatial navigation, as well as to relating short-term memory and long-term memory, essentially rewrites personal history, filters and prioritizes the past from the perspective of present needs, creating what might be called a Hippocampal Fallacy.

According to one author, a person’s memory is not like a home movie faithfully recording what happened. Instead it is designed to reshape the past and turn it into a story. We edit the frames to make them fit.

As I sift through my own past, something I do almost constantly, I not only compress years so as to make them more manageable, but I also instinctively seem to pick and choose sense data that have some ulterior purpose. I sort through residual guilt, love, disappointment, excitement, sadness, joy, anxiety, depression and pleasure, successes and defeats, and I make a story. The ulterior purpose has all to do with meaning and identity.

The hippocampus writes the memoir; of course, it is likely be a fallacious memoir, slanted and self-deceptive. The account of the inner self created by the Hippocampal Fallacy is always adrift, is always skewed.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the fifth and final week of late spring. In the meantime, don’t worry so much about the past. Events are no longer what they were; neither are you.

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.