Sunday, November 28, 2010

Core events and flashbulb memory

Maybe it’s because I have this focus where everything is filtered through core events, but I was watching TED the other day, and ran across a talk by David Griffin, the photography director for National Geographic.

It was mostly pictures, and a little bit about how perspective changes when you stay with a subject long enough and how to communicate that to other people, but what really struck me was his swimming story. I’m not strong on images—I’m more text-driven, but when he described how his son was learning to swim and he turned away, just for a second and the riptide swept his kid away...out toward the rocks. And everything crystallized into this one "image" the rocks, the wave about to crash down on his son and his kid, arms outstretched, screaming, “Help me, Dad!

It’s called "flashbulb memory." One crystal pure instant--visuals, emotions, smells, sounds, everything, all at once.

And I think it’s the reason some core events have more impact. A core event is still a focal point, but a core event that contains a flashbulb memory would be even more of a driver because there’s a stronger impact in a shorter amount of time.

When I was a kid, I used to get drunk and party—lots of people do, but I have this flashbulb memory—falling down drunk, hanging upside-down, drooling in my hair, this big gray cat, an old-fashioned kitchen that smelled like kitty litter and this woman. My future mother-in-law. Can’t say I didn’t make an impression. Right after she chewed my boyfriend out for bringing me home, she told him to throw me back in the car and dump me somewhere.

Every time I reach for a drink, I see her face. So help me, I stopped drinking right then and there, and sometimes I wonder if my control issues also flow from that core event.

It's all about intensity. Like alcohol, you get a stronger effect when it's distilled.


Lauren Murphy said...

I've never heard of flashbulb memory but it makes total sense. I have had memories so vivid I swear I've been transported through space and time. I've had potent memories triggered by a specific smell (smell is usually the strongest) but also things I've felt (physically and emotionally). It's nice to have an explanation behind it.

jodi said... you know smell is the truest memory you can have? I was researching it and of all the memories, it stays the sharpest and doesn't fade.

*waving hi!*

Hailey Edwards said...

Huh. I haven't heard it called flashbulb memory, either, but that does cover it. One clear snapshot of an event in its entirety.

I'll echo the smell thing, too. There's one brand of men's cologne that I can't smell without thinking of the Caribbean and cruise ships. Oddly enough, it's the scent the ship's captain wore.

I met him once. He picked on me (in a nice way) for being a bookworm when he thought I should have been on the top deck making friends and flashing skin. (I was 16 at the time.)

I saw him maybe twice more, but didn't speak to him again. I would still smell him in the hallway, like I'd just missed him.

jodi said...

Isn't that weird? I can smell ginger lilies and be hiking the rain forest as a teenager, no matter where I am.


Lauren Murphy said...

*waves back* I find that totally believable. The smell of summer (yes it does have a smell to me) makes me think of DC. That's where my great grandparents lived when I was little and for some reason those are the memories the smell triggers. I know, weird... just like me. :P

liana laverentz said...

I have several memories like that, where all five senses are re-lived in detail. Most of them from my childhood, and most of them Not necessarily smell, but taste. Now, many decades later, if I can re-create the food, I can re-create the memory.

Now I'm hungry...(wanders off to make a memorable snack...)