Our memories are tricky things, adapting and evolving, sometimes unduly influenced by outside sources. Our own minds often can not be trusted to hold anything related to objective reality. But in a essay written in 2013 for the New York Review of books, neurologist Oliver Sacks, himself the author of many wonderful explorations of memory and loss, wrote on what is perhaps a silver lining.
After recounting a personal story of melding his own memories with those of his brothers, he touches on how the imperfections of memory may be part of our human need for storytelling and for collaborative work. That by sharing our imperfect minds with each other we create something new:
“We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections — but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.”