Context is Everything: The Nature of Memory
For the participants in a trial, a memory expressed from the witness stand must hold the weight of fact. Its accuracy may be challenged and its purpose -- to contribute to the conviction or acquittal of the defendant -- is clear. In psychotherapy, the reason to remember is so well defined -- reflecting on the past helps the patient come to terms with it, one might say -- but feelings, not a clear and accurate depiction of events, are paramount.
In The Context of Memory, Susan Engel explores how factors such as the place, company, purpose, and situation can profoundly affect the essence and experience of a memory. Blending vivid anecdotes with the startling findings of memory research, Engel examines the implications of context and purpose for memory, including one's motivation to remember and the strength or quality of the memory itself.
Beginning with memory's most intimate setting -- an exchange between a mother and her small child -- Engel then explores its function in such varied circumstances as the courtroom, the therapist's office, the construction our our public persona, and the formulation of an autobiography. She traces the trajectory of a memory from the moment of conception in the mind of its owner, through its social realization, and back to the owner, settling in his or her repertoire of the past. Finally, she examines memory as fodder for history -- what is the basis for what we know and pass on?
Beautifully written and filled with fresh insights on such contested issues as recovered memory and remembered testimony, The Context of Memory is both an informative and engaging read.