Memory is incomplete experience

Today’s quote on my zen calendar is perfect.

“Memory is incomplete experience.” J. Krishnamurti

This is a great reminder for researchers and for people in general, because we all forget and keep forgetting how incomplete our memories and the memories of people we come into contact are. How many survey questions could be better written with this advice? How much better is ethnography when we base our observations on repeated viewings, rather than trying to reconstruct a vague memory? How many arguments could be avoided, if we could just remember that memories are incomplete?

I sometimes participate in a video discussion group. I am amazed that each viewing of a short segment of video brings a different set of interpretations, and I am amazed that the other participants continually notice different aspects of the video. This experience really drives the point home about how little we see in our everyday lives. We are so inundated with information that we simply couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, process it all.

Research is the process of recovering and reconstructing. Of observing carefully. Of noticing things that we would never or could never have accessed through normal observation and we absolutely could never access through our memories. Being a researcher does not make us any more able to analyze that which we experience in a single pass- we’re still human. Being a researcher simply means that we have the capacity to observe and investigate things more closely.

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