Scuffle in a London Bar

Are we merely an amalgam of all the things we remember?  Is our sense of self predicated on the memory of experiences throughout our life?  Julian Baggini (in his book The Pig that Wants to Be Eaten) suggests the possibility:


“…if we are in a sense composed of our memories, what happens when those memories become confused with those of other people….Or when our memories fade and trick us?  Do the boundaries of the self begin to dissolve as the reliability of memory deteriorates?


Am I really what I remember?  If so, then we might have a problem.  Take this old friend of mine.  About twenty years ago we were in a bar in London.  We were drunk and we’d made friends with a group of Englishmen who were in town to visit the Earls Court Boat Show.  There was this American man with a limp and a beard who was the boyfriend of the barmaid.  Something about him aggravated the young English man with whom I was speaking.  Towards closing time, the two men became involved in a scuffle.


My friend, a mostly nervous and timid character but now full of English ale, leapt on to the American’s back and endeavoured to restrain him.  With a powerful backwards sweep of his arm, however, the barmaid’s boyfriend cast my friend through the air across the room where he landed amongst a clattering of chairs.  The scuffle ended, someone alerted the Bobbies who sent us all on our way.  The night was over.


Or was it?  Funnily enough, the night has actually grown and metamorphosised over the past two decades.  My friend, through a re-telling and re-imagining of the scene, has incrementally transformed his actions into a heroic epic.  And I have watched it grow with wonder having, as I do, the contemporaneous account in my diary from the time.


And here is the rub.  As his memory of this time and others is recalled, he too has changed.  He has gradually become less timid and more the person recalled from the bar in England.  He is, at least in part, an invention of his flawed memory.


If we become the sum of our memories, then which memories constitute our essence?  And what if our memories are false or merely embellishments?  Who are we then?


And who would we be if we could remember all the things we’ve forgotten?



Filed under life, memory, self

7 responses to “Scuffle in a London Bar

  1. “False memory” is perhaps more common than we realize. After all, if we entertained false memories, how would we know? We tend to regard our memories as infallible and resent anyone casting doubt on their veracity. In this context we might recall the scandal over people “reminded” by hypnotists of alleged suppressed memories of being sexually abused by their parents, memories later shown to be false.

    Less grave but still irritating is my sister’s “memory” that when I was a child I spoke fluent Welsh after staying with her in Wales for one school term. I know that I never spoke Welsh at all but she is convinced.

    I would say that as personalities we are a composite of native tendencies and subsequent experiences and memories. If true memories modify our personality then there is no reason why false memories should not also do so. Of course, we do run into a chicken and egg problem here: has your friend acquired bravado because he entertains false memories of an epic duel or has he invented these false memories in response to a need to feel heroic? I think people often embroider the truth in order to feel good or to impress others (two faces of the same coin) and come to believe the enhanced version of the memory.

    Email SilverTiger

  2. Here’s the funny thing about memories, how do you choose which ones to remember? Interesting that you post about memories at this point since I have had to delete my blog. It hurt, but I had my reasons. Now, have I altered my own future because I have eliminated some things from my past? I cannot go back and see exactly how I felt and my feelings will perpetually change. Maybe it is good. Either way, I wanted to let you know that I am picking up where I left off and you can still find me writing…

    And thank you for all your words of kindness and wisdom in the past…

  3. I think a lot of people will be glad you are back, Beauty. I guess we all presumed the worst without being able to define exactly what the worst might entail. I will add your new address to my blog roll. In terms of memory,a diary is some help since it does allow a contemporaneous account of our experiences and emotions – it provides some check to the vagueries of time and recall. Even then, however, this depends on absolute truth in journal writing otherwise our diaries simply record an imagined life, that very thing a flawed memory creates. Anyway, welcome back!

  4. Am also in the middle of a piece on ‘false memories’ which I will have ready sometime between Friday and The End Of Time… had written the basic premise here but Firefox decided to ‘go postal’ on me and lost it…

    We all have false memories, what is important is the connections within the brain during an influential event. This has more affect on the adult mind, apparently, than stories (which is what most of our memories end up as), forging stronger connections which entropy at a slower rate. This is the path most likely for our decision process.

    Stories are very real to young children which is why they influence them almost as much as if the event happened. Which is why you should keep them away from the television until they are in their teens.

    *am I allowed entropy as a verb? who knows. can’t find my dictionary.

  5. I love to use words that aren’t verbs as verbs…go right ahead…why limit our expressive capabilities with grammar?!

    My husband has a good friend that he has known since high school. He is a story teller. He will even recall other people’s stories as his own! I wonder what his memories are like…I have noticed, over time, that his stories change as well. Intersting phenomenon.

  6. Jester & Beautywalks- The place of stories in our lives is interesting (almost demands another post). What are the evening news, the morning newspaper, the movies we watch, the conversations we have, the Blogs we read? Little more than lots and lots of stories. These stories (including those created as “news”) are a way of making sense of the world and our place in it. They are all, of course subjective views of what, presumably, at one time were objective events. In the end, all these stores, including (especially?) the ones we tell about ourselves, contain elements of fiction. And if our memories are fictionalised, then who are we? Thank you both for taking the time to reply. Oh, and ditto with Beauty on the verb thing.

  7. In one sense blogging might help to tether some of us, I suppose. Even if I delete my blog it will be stored in the internet archive now, at the Presidio, facing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Your posts can be tracked down, even by others, if they could make the necessary connections between the identities we adopt as we change those and our selves and our memories. It’s nice to know that we can eventually, in our dotage perhaps, retrieve them once again.

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