The Link Between Memory and Place

Question: Does your claim that “explicit \r\nmemories thrive on\r\nplace” mean that non-location-based memories tend to fade?


Siri Hustvedt: Well, this is a very \r\ninteresting thing and\r\nthis is based on, in some way, introspection of my own, thinking about \r\nthe\r\ncharacter of my own memories.  But\r\nthis idea of loci and place, that goes way back. It goes... certainly \r\nCicero\r\nhad this notion that in order to remember things, they have to be \r\nplaced, and\r\nmemory systems would often use a house. \r\nSay you need to memorize a speech. \r\nAnd what the technique would mean is you would give yourself a \r\nspatial\r\nlocation and usually a house.  You\r\nwould walk through it as you give the speech, so you would assign \r\nvarious parts\r\nof the speech to different rooms, and this seems to help keep the words \r\ninside\r\nyou. 


I have found that all of my memories seem to need a\r\n place\r\nand that a good part of what we think of as explicit memory has to do \r\nwith\r\nlocation. So for example, it is not that when you started going to grade\r\nschool, say you went to the same school, that you remember every day of \r\nyour\r\ngrade school experience. What you are remembering is the site of those\r\nexperiences.  Some of them explicit\r\nand many of them completely buried or forgotten. 


I find that I need to locate my memories.  There was one illustration that I gave\r\nin the book that interested me.  It\r\nwas a failure of my own memory, an error. \r\nAnd this is what it was. \r\nWhen I was four years old, I was in Norway with my mother and\r\nsister.  We were at my aunt's house\r\nsitting around the table, having a meal. \r\nI remember—I can see the living room perfectly in my mind.  My cousin, my older cousin, Vivica,\r\nbegins to cry.  I love this because—she is older \r\nthan she is still older than I am—and so I felt \r\nbad, I didn't know why she was crying.  I pushed \r\nmyself off the chair, and I\r\nremember my feet were dangling, so I had to drop.  Went\r\n around and patted my cousin on her arm to comfort\r\nher.  And all the grown ups burst\r\ninto laughter and I was so angry and humiliated by that laughter.  Of course no one meant any harm, but I\r\nwas four. 


Only a few years ago, I've carried this memory of\r\nhumiliation around with me my whole life. \r\nOnly a couple of years ago I recognized that it couldn't have \r\ntaken\r\nplace in that living room because that house had not been built.  What had happened was that in order to\r\npreserve the memory, I replaced one house with another.  My\r\n aunt's second house, the one built\r\nafter that I do remember vividly. 


I think this tells us something about the nature of\r\nmemory.  First of all, that it's\r\nshifting.  There are no fixed\r\noriginal memories that we can actually get ahold of, and that place is \r\nsomehow\r\nvital to the retention of those memories; even if we need an artificial \r\nhouse\r\nto put it in.

Studying a humiliating memory from her own childhood convinced the author that we "place" what we remember, and vice versa.

The 10 most influential women in tech right now

These thought leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs are propelling the kind of future we want to be a part of.

Credit: Flickr, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch
Technology & Innovation
  • The tech industry may be dominated by men in terms of numbers, but there are lots of brilliant women in leadership positions that are changing the landscape.
  • The women on this list are founders of companies dedicated to teaching girls to code, innovators in the fields of AI, VR, and machine learning, leading tech writers and podcasters, and CEOs of companies like YouTube and Project Include.
  • This list is by no means all-encompassing. There are many more influential women in tech that you should seek out and follow.

Keep reading Show less

In quantum entanglement first, scientists link distant large objects

Physicists create quantum entanglement, making two distant objects behave as one.

Credit: Niels Bohr Institute
Surprising Science
  • Researchers accomplished quantum entanglement between a mechanical oscillator and a cloud of atoms.
  • The feat promises application in quantum communication and quantum sensors.
  • Quantum entanglement involves linking two objects, making them behave as one at a distance.
  • Keep reading Show less

    90,000-year-old human hybrid found in ancient cave

    Researchers have just discovered the remains of a hybrid human.

    Researchers in a chamber of the Denisova cave in Siberia, where the fossil of a Denisova 11 was discovered. CreditIAET SB RAS, Sergei Zelensky
    Surprising Science

    90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. Her life was short; she died in her early teens, but she stands at a unique point in human evolution. She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

    Keep reading Show less

    Ambassadors from 50 nations sign letter supporting LGBTQ rights in Poland

    Poland has become an increasingly unwelcoming place for the LGBTQ community. 50 diplomats hope to change that.

    Credit: Sentemon/Shutterstock
    Politics & Current Affairs
    • An open letter, signed by 50 ambassadors and NGO leaders, asked the Polish government to respect LGBT rights.
    • The Polish Government responded by denying the implied discrimination exists.
    • Poland has been deemed the "worst place to be gay" in the EU in spite of this.
    Keep reading Show less