Writers from Julian Barnes to Oliver Sacks and Petina Gappah find some profound truths in what gets lost to memory I have always been fascinated by the human memory – its capacity, its acuity, its connections to emotions and our basic senses. Somehow the blob of gray gunk in my skull manages to recall everything from the statute of frauds I memorised in law school to the lyrics of pretty much any new wave single released in the 1980s. It’s the reason one whiff of Ralph Lauren Polo cologne takes me right back to a gropey nightmare in the cab of a pickup truck with the high school quarterback. But despite memory’s remarkable breadth and depth, we also know that it is fallible. Fragile. Even manipulable. Cognitive research has proved, for example, that eyewitness memory is far more confident and far less accurate than we instinctively believe. If we can’t believe our own memories, how can we trust ourselves? Memory is also reversible, and what we have forgotten is often as telling as what we recall.
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