Saturday, 6 February 2016

Good Memory Is Not Good

Since childhood, I have been said to have a good memory. Some said this is why I learn fast, some attributed it to my good grades at school. If my memory is truly good, the only admittible advantage to me is that it helps recite favourite lines in poetry or libretto, or important historical facts, without much pain.

Over time, however, it becomes clearer that having a good memory is not necessarily good.

The biggest problem is that it makes you remember what you don't really want. Unlike what one might expect, it doesn't really need an eidetic memory like that of Lisbeth Salander in Steig Larsson's best-selling trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to do so. For some mysterious reasons, what the eye and heart come across is automatically recorded in the long-term memory, without any prior approval. This means the conscious is not even aware of the recording and storage processes until certain retrieval cues trigger off a red button buried somewhere in the brain, blowing off the Pandora box shutters and replaying something that you may never want to see again.

It would be an unfortunate mistake to assume that only bad memories hurt. In fact, both good and bad memories do, more so for the happy ones. This usually happens when the good old days are long gone. It does not necessarily mean one is dwelling on the irrecoverable past, or indulging in the self-created illusions that it were but a nightmare though. It just means the rift between the past and present is too large to be reconciled, at least for a certain period of time. As a result, the happier one's experience is, the longer it takes to convince one's heart and mind that everything is but the past. In this case, the happy memories are little more than unwelcomed reminders of what one's life used to be, and what it could have been if nothing went wrong.

Unfortunately human life always goes astray and unfolds in an unexpected or even unwanted direction, and there is little we can do about it. Worse still, those with a good memory often find it even harder to swallow, because the highly autonomous memory works on its own and doesn't give a damn to what one feels. It only reacts to any external stimulus brought to its attention, without any reference to timing or situation. On some occasions it doesn't even need any retrieval cue to recall what is buried somewhere in the brain. It just blasts off without notice, leaving one in despair or distress. And it just works that way.

Words of wisdom raging on the internet often advise people to let go, but the question is how, not what, to do. For those being haunted by memories, they need instructions more than directions, which are mostly common sense anyway. What people with a good memory really need is a strong hand to help find the way out of the labyrinth of conflicts between the emotion and reason. In fact, this is a dilemma that seems extremely difficult to get over. Usually the better the memory is, the harder it is to step out of the predicament. Most importantly, unlike computer files, memories cannot be deleted voluntarily. Anything that falls into the long-term memory is deemed to be recalled at any time.

If I may, let me wish for God's mercy of granting me the ability to delete unwanted files in memory as the birthday gift for this year. Alternatively, a less effective recording and storage system in my brain would also be desirable.

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