Past memories

Other | Friday 22nd February 2019 | Saskia

What is your earliest childhood memory?

For me it is four year old Saskia riding on a wooden horse carousel with a view on Edinburgh castle. I think that experience made quite an impression on me and that is why I remember it so vividly. I could even tell you about the colours the horses had and about the face my dad made when he saw how much fun I had.

But was this memory really my memory? How can I be so sure?

Can I be sure because I remember it so vividly? Actually, not! 

My memory might as well have been created five minutes ago. As a matter of fact, all of my memories might have been created five minutes ago. Even more, the laptop I am typing on right now might have been created five minutes ago and my memories of buying it as well. All and everything could have been created five minutes ago.

Hah, but there are fossils which prove that the earth exists longer than that. But what if those fossils had been created five minutes ago as well? Our whole understanding of the past would be crashed by such a theory. The past would not be what we actually had experienced, but just something which was created. Our past would be fake!

De facto that might be true. Try it. Give yourself a few minutes and try to disproof that the past is fake.

See, you can not do it because this theory is not falsifiable. There is just no way to prove it wrong. The Philosopher Bertrand Russell invented this non-falsifiable theory in order to justify thoughts about so called Scepticism on which I will tell you more about in my next #knowledgematters episode.

So far, I just wanted to introduce you to Russell`s theory and to point out something about the past we easily forget all the time: The past is not saved on a flash drive and probably not even in our memory. So, what makes us think that our past is real?

Seen from a different perspective though, I still like my first memory. And even if it should have been created five minutes ago, it supposedly gives me the same pleasure it would if I had actually experienced it.

Therefore, we should start to ask ourselves whether my memory was less real if it had been created.