Today's democratic court systems draw on ancient wisdom when they emphasize an eye witness as the best sort of evidence of guilt or innocence that can be given. Television and movie scripts validate this in many of their scripts. Yet, like the famous song "The way we were", time has “rewritten every line”. Evidence from current brain research says that our memories are based upon a better or worse ability to recall details. Some sing, ski, build electronic gadgets, sew, we all have a range of abilities in relation to others. We all know that we are better at some things and have a harder time with others. Why should memory be different?
Studies have shown that the way in which questions are asked influences the perception of the memory under inquiry. Memories change over time; they are not objective and are always reconstructed. We can even remember incidents that did not occur if others we trust validate that the incident occurred.
Other research suggests that we create the future based upon the memories we have from the past (the more detailed the better). Our present is colored by the interpretation we place upon the past and how we use that as a component of future scenarios.
Florence Kluckhohn, a famous anthropologist, determined that people could look at the past on a spectrum running from a people positive perspective to a people negative perspective, in more dynamic language people are basically good to people are basically evil. By evil we mean that they have no conscious, act only in their own self-interest, have no remorse or compassion, in other words psychopathic. About 1% of the population fit that diagnosis and the cause is complex and based more upon physiological and social conditions than it is values and beliefs.
Complicated? Yes, because the brain is complicated. One complex concept that has occurred recently is that of plasticity. Our brains build new neuron connections all the time and we have the capacity to revisit old memories and reinterpret them by sliding more toward the people positive perspective or more toward the people negative perspective. We can re-interpret them with new insight, maturity and understanding of the world and how it functions. Once again, it is not our memories that are important, but our interpretation of them.
What we are able to create for the future is largely based on the quality of our interpreted past. To have high quality memories, we have to be able to recall, not what was done to us, but what we derived from the situation that matters most.