Of course, there is the even bigger question: why are memories so unreliable? After all, if they were less subject to change we wouldn’t suffer the embarrassment of misremembering the details of an important conversation or a first date.
Then again, editing might be another way to learn from experience. If fond memories of an early love weren’t tempered by the knowledge of a disastrous breakup, or if recollections of difficult times weren’t offset by knowledge that things worked out in the end, we might not reap the benefits of these hard-earned life lessons. Perhaps it’s better if we can rewrite our memories every time we recall them. Nader suggests that reconsolidation may be the brain’s mechanism for recasting old memories in the light of everything that has happened since. In other words, it just might be what keeps us from living in the past.
Greg Miller writes about biology, behavior and neuroscience for Science magazine. He lives in San Francisco. Gilles Mingasson is a photographer based in Los Angeles.