Hollywood, Amnesia, and What It Reminds Us of Memory – Harvard Gazette

Schachter also praised Nolan’s understanding of anterograde amnesia, in which a person is unable to form new memories, although he noted that most cases of anterograde amnesia also result in retrograde amnesia or loss of memory. memories from before the injury. (Schachter also traced the filmmaker’s insight to a Georgetown University psychology course taken by Nolan’s brother, Jonathan, who used the idea for a short story.)

“Overall, the film does a great job of portraying the severity of Leonard’s anterograde amnesia and clarifying the difference between what it is and the more typical cinematic depiction,” Schachter said.

“The way the film portrays the severity is part of the genius,” he added. “The reliance on notes and photos, the continued inability to recognize other characters we know he knows, illustrates the severity of the deficit.”

Siegel referred to the role of memory in the formation of personality. “Another realistic and compelling thing is the image of what it might be like for your mind to be limited in this way,” she said. For example, she noted, when we see Leonard reliving an argument with his wife, he doesn’t exhibit a full range of emotions. “It’s very flat and has little effect,” she said. “Is he flat like that because of his condition? When he remembers this scene, does he project the affect he has on the scene?

“It’s a big pitfall that we all face,” she said. “When we remember ourselves, are we remembering ourselves as we were – or are we projecting our present selves into the past?” This mutability plays a role in the story and adds to Leonard’s uncertainties. It also illustrates, Schachter said, a key understanding of memory. Noting the unreliability of eyewitness accounts, he pointed out that “memories are an interpretation, not a record”. He called this plot point “a good summary of our basic understanding of memory”.

Questions about the reliability of memory and its function cropped up throughout the panel, even as participants dismissed some plot implausibilities – such as Leonard’s ability to remember and follow instructions. As the plot unfolds, with its fragmented shift in time, the audience must face the possibility that Leonard is intentionally wrong. This deviation, experts note, plays on a well-known aspect of memory.

“There is a very long tradition in memory research that what we remember from the past not only reflects what happened, but also our own current needs,” Schachter said. This hindsight bias theory, he explained, “corresponds to the idea that we use our memory, or shape our memory, to meet our current needs.”

“We try to be nice to ourselves,” Siegel added. As an example, she cited a common cultivated habit of “putting things where we’ll find them.” The gravity of Leonard’s case and his awareness of it make this self-kindness optional. “If the future me isn’t going to appreciate this, why help it?”

Touching on an essential function of memory — it allows us to shape our own life narrative — she noted that Leonard had an upside: Without new lasting memories, she said, “He’s kind of liberated.”

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