Many of us have an image of memory being like a library where all the books are housed (sometimes messily) and all the pages intact if we can just look them up in the proper catalogue. However, there are many kinds of memory - some coded semantically, i.e. our fact based knowledge that is more descriptive (for example: what is the capital of Australia? Either you can access the name or you can't) - others are more pictorial (for example: what shape are a german shepherd's ears?) or episodic memories (which are often autobiographical and tend to be visual images coded in rich context). Recalling episodic memories is a very rich experience, said by many to be akin to time travel. It can feel very real, but that feeling is no indication of the reliability of that memory in terms of its content. Accessing these memories, one actually associates details from multiple stores constructing an new original. I spoke in a recent post about how the process of perception is, to some degree, creative as well. Is anything real?!? This is one of my obsessions, not just for its neuroscientific interest but for its metaphoric appeal as well. It seems to me that certain artistic voices ring true for people because of either the way they may echo the way they see and remember, or because they offer new ways to construct perceptions and memories.
More on this in a later post, but heads up on the recent Radio Lab which Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex participated in curating if you want to learn more from some of the leading people in the field. Chris Chatham at Developing Intelligence has a few good recent posts on memory as well and Madam Fathom addresses the subject from a molecular point of view if that's your bag!