The Memory Hole

One time when I was in graduate school, a few of us students were sitting around the lounge talking about our earliest memories. A lurking professor, overhearing our conversation, observed that our recollections were dubious, at best. What we were more likely remembering were repeated stories or photographs or home movies – and not even necessarily about ourselves. We could be mixing up stories of our siblings or cousins or even characters from after-school specials. There was no way to know for sure.

At the time, I rejected this argument, confident of the contents of my own brain, but it turned out that this professor was something of an expert on this topic, and subsequent developments in neuroscience have borne him out. I was reminded of this while perusing the cover story in this month’s Wired, which is about the fluidity and malleability (and potential pharmacological alteration of) memory. I then realized that it should be possible to empirically verify at least one of my earliest memories.

Sometime in the early 1970s, my father took me to a football game at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia. It was the Eagles versus the Steelers, perhaps preseason or maybe the beginning of the season – August or September, for sure. I knew little about football – I only remember a mass of very faraway people running around and piling into each other. It was during a hurricane, or a tropical storm, or the remnants of one, and as we were leaving, I remember my umbrella turning inside out and almost yanking me away. I remember there were a lot of fumbles, or being told there were a lot of fumbles, and that a player named Larry Marshall, who may have worn #44, had some exciting kick and/or punt returns. But not enough to result in any points, because the Eagles lost 14-0. So, are these real memories, or a collection of random bits from the later 1970s that have gotten neuronically mashed together? I’m suspecting the latter, but a few minutes of Google searching should be all that is required.

(to be continued)

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