It’s one of the most elusive and mysterious parts of human physiology, a multi-dimensional, multi-sensory part of us that is arguably one of our most important features. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, memory is taking center stage at a fascinating new exhibition at The Health Museum.
In simple terms, memory is the brain’s ability to store, retain and then recall information, sorted between three major categories, sensory, short-term and long-term. But for most of us, memory is simply a catalog of our life experience, an instant replay of sorts that chronicals both the mundane and traumatic parts of our daily existance.
“Our memory really illuminates what our life is and who we’ve met, where we’ve been, our experiences with people, and that really culminates to create our impression of life.”
Tadd Pullin is the president and CEO of The Health Museum here in Houston, where the exhibition Memory is on view through early December. He says various exhibits explain different types of memory, including what’s known as “flashbulb” memory, where we recall, in our own unique way, what we were doing at the time of a significant news event.
“We might have an experience and a number of people have been present during that experience, but their memory is different, and it’s because of what you remember is tied to where you were and what you were thinking and what you were experiencing at that time might be a completely different experience than someone else who watched the same coverage and had similar reactions, but their own context.”
Then there are jukebox memories, triggered by songs that both take us back to bygone eras but also help shape our perceptions of the past.
“Memories build upon each other and our perceptions are shaped around those memories and that’s why our mind can create a different perception of the world than others.”
Memories can often fail us or take on characteristics that we want them too. That according the museum’s Brian Mancuso, who says we often alter details in our memory to fit our perceptions of what those memories should really be.
“We do fabricate things where we expect detail to be and it’s all about context that if we’ve been in that situation before and something should have happened, then we’re going to fill in that detail over time. Memory is this really fluid, complex thing that you get to start to play with in this exhibit and it kind of lays these things bare so it’s a sort of metacognitive experience. If you can make that jump in this exhibit, you’ve really gotten to the core of what it wants to talk to you about. It’s what’s going on in your head and these exhibits really lay that bare.”
The exhibition Memory continues through December 10th at The Health Museum, located at 1515 Hermann Drive in the Museum District.