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Past Memories and (1st , 2nd , 3rd) Person


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#1 tmaromine

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Posted 01 October 2007 - 05:25 AM

When you look back at some memory, are you yourself ?

I've noticed that I rarely ever am. I don't remember events that I was a part of 1st-person-ally. It seems I'm always 3rd person – and when I remember, I feel as if I were 'someone else', or that it's just a 'dumber' me, because I feel like I'm "wiser" now than when I look back at a memory and I can't relate...

I've never thought back in 2nd person though, as if I were at my side communicating with me...

So, do we all remember in 3rd person, or somehow is it dependent on the person ? :)

#2 CraigD

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Posted 01 October 2007 - 12:57 PM

So, do we all remember in 3rd person, or somehow is it dependent on the person ?

Though I too have a sense that the “me” in an old memory seems a “different me” than the “here and now me”, I wouldn’t characterize my memory as being in the 3rd narrative person.

In all of my memories, the “me character” is very special – I’m never uncertain which character in a particular “scene” is me, or perceive a scene from the point-of-view of a character other than me without a conscious effort of imagination. Sometimes, though, I “remember” things that happened to other people, or even fictional characters, who’s experiences were vividly described, as if they had happened to me, sometimes to the extent that I briefly confuse them with my own experiences. Such confusion is always brief – if prolonged, I would question my sanity.

I, and, it seems to me, most people, are able to easily chose the person we use when writing or speaking a narrative account of a memory. I can freely chose to refer to the “me character”, or any other character, in the 1st, 3rd, or 2nd person. When doing so, it’s common to “fill in” details I didn’t actually experience (eg: “… then Alice saw me coming, and thought ‘he probably wants me to do something, I’d better avoid him’ …” even though I don’t actually know that Alice saw me coming, or what she was thinking) – what a psychologist might term “projection”. It’s common, I think, to confused these “made up” parts of a memory-based narrative with actual experience, often resulting in miscommunication and trouble (eg: Alice to me: “That’s not what I was thinking at all! I was going inside to check on something, and didn’t even see you. How could you think I’d think that?!”)

I suspect that our actual memories are not in the form of a convention narrative at all, but that we “invent” such narratives as the need arises. I (and some others I read) have noticed some odd consequences of this. These narratives seem to be distinct from the memories that inspire them. If we don’t commit memories to a narrative, we tend to forget them. If we don’t repeatedly recite or reread a narrative, we tend to forget them. We tent to revise narratives, without being conscious of doing so. And we can be convinced that completely manufactured narratives represent memories – what psychologists term “false memory syndrome”.

An example of a kind of “memory narrative revisions” I often experience are “technological anachronisms”. For example, I have distinct “memories” of having had an LCD alarm clock and used an Apple 2 computer in the early and mid 1970s, and using http and the World Wide Web in the late 1970s and early 1980s, chronological impossibilities.

Other evidence that our memories are not the same as our narratives of them is that people with disabilities that prevent them from using language can still remember complicated experiences. People who speak only strange languages lacking the necessary syntax and pronouns to have distinct 1st-3rd persons can still use their language to describe experiences.

Consideration of the nonequivalence of memory and narrative of memory raises question of whether changes in language can change the way we experience and communicate in such a way that misunderstandings and other causes of social strife are reduced. For example, if our language consistently used distinct pronouns and persons for “he/she who was me”, “he/she who directly related this experience to me”, and “he/she whom a guessing experienced events as I describe them”, would the example of a miscommunication between me and Alice above be as likely as with present-day English, or even effectively possible?

#3 tmaromine

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Posted 01 October 2007 - 07:23 PM

Hm... I'd say I remember things like you said you do too – not exactly "3rd person". Because, I do feel as if it was me, just not the total me of now. Especially when I can think of another way I would've rather acted than how I did, I realise it as me, just, as less than me because I didn't act how I thought I should and I criticise myself. . .though the thought-me never verbally refutes me (or I would be insane). If I remember someone else, I don't have apply any of my personal thoughts to them like I would looking back on myself, and it just always feels like a dumber me.

But even if I used 1st person to narrate a past event, I still seem to eye me in 3rd-ish person, and with a little more thought put to it, I see the person I was talking to from my view that I had it, and with even more thought I can "look at" myself (which, if one can achieve that, sort of helps with that "Do to them what you want them to do to you" thing if you can also switch the emotions...).

I have a relatively good skill of guessing how long something was ago, though I've thought I had things before that I have now, or used to have, but never had when I thought I did, and I'd believe it until I really made no sense.

All my memories seem to be visual though, and I never narrate them until I try to explain them. I can easily write "My school's secretary told me that my high school was being like most others by not allowing backpacks during schoolhours" – 1st person ; and also "That's how most schools are"*– 2nd person , though I don't actually have a vivid recollection of her telling me that ; and "I saw her tell me that most schools don't allow blahblahblah...", which sounds completely insane since I'm not watching myself on a camera. It's a sort of 1st-3rd combination. I know exactly who's me, what I was thinking, how I could've been more better/realistic/whatever in that situation, and how I probably looked while I was doing it and cetera. The "he who was me" pronoun sounds much like a superphilosiphical (or supermental) reflective 3rd person pronoun, and if English had it, I don't think I'd ever write it. . .but do I think with it ? Sort of, but I can relate the whole event as relating to only me, and the "dumb me" is all I can relate with.