Memory is a Creative Activity

Neuroscience and Conflict Resolution Blog by Stephanie West Allen

Memory is not like a video camera; it’s malleable, shifting and changing with time, place, and mood. That’s why, in mediation, the story of a conflict is not as important as the role and place of the current versions of the story in the path towards resolution.

When reading Beauty and the Soul, I came upon a fanciful and charming paragraph that helps to illustrate memory’s shiftiness.

What happens to our memory as time moves on? We think of it as an archive, and for this reason we call the recording of computer data "memory." I am afraid it is a misleading metaphor. Imagine that the data stored in your computer have their own life. A spell changes the numbers. The texts you have written mix with each other, conjure up stories, or turn into songs. The photos become animated, then a film, the characters take trips all over the computer, start writing e-mails themselves, and the people in your address book suddenly have a will of their own and decide to play videogames. That is how a computer would work if it had human memory. That is how our unconscious works. Any experience we record does not stay the same, but interacts with other experiences, creates in us certain moods, evokes reminiscenses, rouses fantasies, makes up stories. Memory is neither neutral nor mechanical, and hardly accurate—it is not like a filing cabinet of archives. Memory is a creative activity.

                        author

Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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