How often have you had the thought, "Do I remember that time I was four or do I only remember the picture?" These kinds of doubts, was it real or was it kodak, have increased exponentially over the years, leaving me to assume that its simply the corrosive aspects of aging. Neuroscientist, Joseph Ledoux, however, offers an intriquing explanation of memory that helps explain this phenonemon. Most of us think that memory is something stored and then later accessed as needed. Like a dresser drawer with clothes, say. We open the drawer, wear the shirt, then put it back until we need it next time. However, Ledoux talks about a lab study indicating that each time a memory is pulled into conscious awareness, "it has to be restored as a new memory in order to be accessible later. The old memory is either not there or is inaccessible. In short, your memory about something is only as good as your last memory about something."
So when you're looking through the photo album and you "remember" wearing those pajamas, jumping on that bed, you only retain that which you remember via the photograph. All of the "real" memories, not captured by camera (laughing, the bed squeaking, mother's perfume) get replaced by the single snapshot.
Unless, I assume, we put the picture down and allow our minds to recall those fuller details, allowing the rich tapestry of our "real" memory to go back into the memory capsule.
This new concept of memory suggests there's a distinctly negative side to taking so many still life and video pictures. One the one hand, we see a picture and are "reminded." But on the other hand, our ability to once again retrieve the fullness of that memory becomes short-circuited. Something to think about the next time you're looking through the photo album.