The self and memory | Our sense of self seems deeply tied to our personal experiences and memories. But amid the onset of conditions like dementia, an individual’s self endures even as their memories begin to fail. Our memories don’t define who we are.

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In the light of anecdotal evidence about their aging grandparent the author makes the jump that the ‘self’ isn’t memory but then at the end states that: >My grandmother remained “Molly” in many ways – her determined nature, her strong faith, and her wicked sense of humour all persisted, as did her musical tastes and sweet tooth. In doing so the author equates the ‘self’ with one’s behavior, implying if behavior remains intact then the ‘self’ remains intact. The logical conclusion should instead be that behavior patterns are very ingrained and 99% of the time, entirely unconscious. Alzheimers clearly affects very specific parts of the brain, namely those parts dealing with memory, and leaves the other parts alone, namely the parts dealing with mannerisms etc. ​ Nothing in this article provides evidence for the existence of a ‘self’. ​ edit: a word


It’s not good science to use one’s relatives or loved ones as subjects to be studied. I see the author trying to use her knowledge to ease her own pain of losing her grandmother and that is completely understandable. But her ruminations on Molly and Molly’s sense of self is probably more revealing of the author’s own sense of self as she is relying on her memories of Molly to prove or disprove a hypothesis about self involving memories. They say good fiction is autobiographical, good science isn’t. Again, though perhaps we should look to the East and listen as they tell us there is no ‘self’.


Honestly, if you’ve never had someone close to you go through this then you have no idea what you’re talking about. I watched my hero, the man who gave me life and raised me, my best friend for 45 years, look at me and not recognize me. I saw him become someone I didn’t know. I saw him suffer, his innermost pain becoming his reality. I saw a proud, strong, brilliant man become a child. Then I closed the lid and stood goodbye to him forever. It is one of the most horrific and heartbreaking things you’ll ever endure. My dad has been gone many years and he took part of me with him. My heart and my peace.


While this is a nice sentimental post it’s clearly not informed by neuroscience or psychology (there are numerous types of memory for example). Being that what’s being said isn’t based on any scientific fact I don’t see it as exactly rigorous grounds for making a philosophical claim. Apologies if this sounds rude it just happens to be an area that many people like to discuss without adequate education and pop psychology continues to spread misinformation or partial truths. This falls into a similar category as the ‘we only use 10% of our brains’ myth and many others.


Our memories do define who others are though through the perception of self. Conditions like dementia disrupt this development.