Most people assume that their memories accurately capture what happened in the past and that these memories are permanent. Unfortunately, memories do change over time. They’re not an objective records of the past, as though a video of an event has been saved on a mental hard disk. Rather, memories are reconstructed, and their reconstruction is influenced by current attitudes, beliefs, and available information. This reconstructive nature of the past means that how we think and feel today influences how we remember yesterday.
-Passage from The Paradox of Time, pg.80
Kugelmass said: The past is gone, the future has not yet come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it.
Journey with me for a moment. Consider what Kugelmass said with respect to experiences and our memories of them. Let’s look at ourselves in terms of two separate selves: the Experiencing Self and the Remembering Self. The Experiencing Self asks the question: ‘Does it hurt now?’ the Remembering Self asks the question: ‘How was it on the whole?’*
Memories are all we get to keep from our experience of living (aka experiencing self), so logically the only perspective we can adopt as we think about our lives is therefore that of the remembering self.*
Are you following? Essentially as we think about the present it becomes the past. Voila.
But why? I have two theories for you- the peak end rule and duration neglect. When we are remembering a memory we are engaging in retrospective assessment of that moment. And retrospective assessments are insensitive to how many days the vacation was or how long sex lasted; we weight two singular moments, the peak and the end, much more than others.* This is why ‘how a vacation ends’ often eclipses how you remember the trip… even if you may have had six whole days in paradise and only caught the stomach flu on the last day.
But fear not- there are life hacks available! Next time you’re doing something and you think: “I don’t want to forget this moment or I don’t want this feeling to end”— Say. It. Out. Loud. Making an experience self conscious gives it weight and a significance it otherwise wouldn’t have.* Similarly, you must notice that you are doing something in order to get pleasure from the activity. So… next time you are doing something you enjoy, take a moment and observe yourself in the act. Simply enough, the the act of noticing is all it takes to enter the present and reconstruct how we remember yesterday.
My inspiration to synthesize this piece came from my reading of Daniel Kahneman’s: Thinking Fast and Slow and Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s: The Time Paradox and obviously my existential itch to type up the connection between the past, present, and future (or at-least try to).
*Quotes from Thinking, Fast and Slow