Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?

Yes, it’s another 50 year anniversary post. Do you know which one?

March 13, 1969 — ring any bells?

No?

Welcome to today’s real topic: How easily we forget.

Fifty years ago today, Apollo 9 returned to earth.

Thanks to NASA

“Which one was Apollo 9,” you ask?

Not the one that went all the way to the moon. That was Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.

Not the one from the movie. That was Apollo 13, also known as “the mission that failed,” the following year.

Apollo 9 was a successful launch, mission, and return. It was an important mission too (personally, I like to think they all were), meant to test the lunar module for the first time.

The lunar module

It also involved some space walking, which always made me nervous.

Apollo 9 mission

Yet we don’t remember it.  I certainly don’t and back then I was still following them fanatically.

My love affair with space flight began in sixth grade with the Mercury missions, the men of “The Right Stuff.” I still have the social studies assignments I did on Alan Shepard’s, Scott Carpenter’s, and John Glenn’s early flights.  Yes, they have survived the last three major clean outs.

Anyway, working on this post got me thinking about memory and why most memories fly away, sooner or later. And why some memories stay with us.

So here is a short treatise on Memory 101 10 01

We need a lot of things to retain and retrieve a memory, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on only two. You’re welcome.

 

With thanks to the Calendar Club of Canada for the image.

By the ninth launch, the novelty of these launches was gone, even for me. I may have listened to the launch and recovery, in fact I probably did; I just don’t remember it. 

this one was so common, I had a dozen identical images to choose from.

Emotion helps. In evolutionary terms, it’s important to remember dangerous or stressful situations; so memories made under stress last longer. Epinephrine and cortisol, our “stress hormones,” are just doing their thing.

Stress comes with both positive events and negative. We remember the birth of each of our children, our wedding day(s), and probably a few of our better vacations. I’m sure you can think of a dozen other examples.

Those of us who resonate with these 50 year look-backs, still remember where we were when JFK was shot, or when the Challenger exploded (I was in love with Christa Mcauliffe, as was most of the world I imagine). Poor Apollo 9, just didn’t make the cut.

From their point of view, I imagine that’s a good thing.

How about you? Does the emotion and novelty theory work for you? 

Please remember to fill out my 2019 Survey Monkey. Just click the link and off you’ll go.

25 Responses

  1. susan scott
    | Reply

    How accurate are our memories I sometimes wonder. Yes, the big events as you say. But too often when I’ve checked happenings eg with my brother or sister, they have a different recollection. I reckon maybe their emotional response was different to mine which means theirs is as real and valid as mine. But the facts of the matter seem divergent. The mystery will no doubt always remain. Thank you Janet!

    • Merril D Smith
      | Reply

      I’ve had that happen, too, Susan–or my sister and I will remember certain and different particulars of an event.
      Merril D Smith recently posted…Spikes and ShacklesMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That’s a good point, Susan. Memory, the entire topic, has become quite fascinating to me of late. And there are a slew of ways to approach it. I think your point — his accurate are they, and who’s to say — borders on the philosophical if not the spiritual side of the topic. And definitely worth pondering. Thank you.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Yes, I remember the acclaimed moon landing, and probably remember it always, but it’s embedded in my memory because I was also ecstatic about being pregnant with our first child. To add to your list, I remember the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a few martyrs since then.

    When I pass the WaWa station, I’ll remember the shock of smashing the traffic cones, embarrassing then and funny now. Yes, indeed, the emotion/novelty theory works for me!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Confession of a Cone HeadMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh sure, these were certainly not my only space mission memories or even major life event memories. I’m baffled though by the memory I have as a 12-18 month old, bundled in a snowsuit of some sort and have difficulty walking. Neighbor boys helped me over a log in the woods. And “everyday” occurrence back then I imagine, yet why has it persevered? So many questions. Theory of mind, memory, brain function, neuroscience — all are huge fields of study and all fascinating. I bring you the fun parts here I hope.

      As for your WaWa story — the name alone has always made me smile, never mind your fun story. 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

  3. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    No doubt we remember events for a variety of reasons. I wonder sometimes if I remember anything as it actually was, but have latched onto the event because of how it makes me feel now by remembering it in a certain way. That is, the past might not be what we believe it was.
    Ally Bean recently posted…Mercury Is In Retrograde & My Subconscious Is On The Blinketh, Me ThinkethMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Ally, You’ve reminded me of an anecdote I once heard about five witnesses to a car accident. All saw the accident but each reported differently on what they had seen, even so much as differences in the colors of the cars involved. Still, all believed what they had seen was fact and would have testified as such. I was just taken by the “fact” that I did not remember at all this Apollo 9 mission and wondered what the current science behind that might be. For their sake, I’m now glad I didn’t remember. 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

  4. kathleen pooler
    | Reply

    Hi Janet, I do remember the Challenger explosion very clearly because that was the day my mother knelt in front of my dying Nana and ask for forgiveness. We were sitting in my Aunt Rose’s living room watching TV. But I have no clue about which Apollo did what.. I suspect we remember more about the personal events surrounding the event than the event itself.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Kathy. I’m certain we do. My memory of The Challenger is bound to be different from yours. And yours is quite poignant apart from the story on TV. What a beautiful scene for you to witness. Thank you for sharing it here.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

  5. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    I was a senior in high school and lived on Cocoa Beach so was there for all the launches

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      How cool. Mercury as well as Apollo? But do you remember them all equally?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

      • Susan Jackson
        | Reply

        All the shots, when I was in elementary school the entire school went to the beach to watch, other times I was on top of my mom’s store to watch. Of course some were very spectacular especially the night launches—we lived on the beach. I live across the state now but we can still see them.

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Wow. How great for you. So you are essentially back home now. No wonder you like Florida. 🙂
          Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

          • Susan Jackson
            |

            Don’t we all tend to like were we were born and grew up—thank heavens or certain states would be over run

          • Janet Givens
            |

            Susan, oh so true. You e reminded me of one of my fondest Kazakhstan memories. Not in the book. I was teaching English Literature and they were reading Robert Burns’ “My Home is in the Highlands.” Of all the poetry or prose they read that semester, this one they understood the best because they understood that deep connection to ones childhood land. It was a sweet class discussion.
            Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

          • Susan Jackson
            |

            I just Beta read the Afghan book and near the end—-oops, I better not tell but it fits into this conversation big time

  6. Terry Bryan
    | Reply

    I’ll go with novelty and emotion, but also writing things down. When Peggy and I started traveling together I did not jot things down, but still remembered events better than she…then I decided to keep a travel book, and remembeeddc

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Absolutely, Terry. Writing them down (and remembering to read them) falls under “rehearsal” — one of many avenues science has taken to study this stuff. Go to the head of the class. I think that feeds into why we write memoir: helps us remember the experience as we relive it as we write. Hadn’t actually thought of that before. Thanks.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

  7. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I’m throwing my hat in the ring with your first two responders, Susan and Merril.

    My sister and I are only 13-months apart. We were raised in the same home by the same parents, and yet our memories of various occasions/events are vastly different.

    We don’t know why. We can’t explain it. Yet we respect each other’s memory as valid while maintaining our own.
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Cut the CRAPMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      All our memories are valid, absolutely Laurie. Glad you emphasized that. All are individual, just as we are. My curiosity was around why we, as individuals, remember one event, but not another. I was reminded the other day that two old friends from high school were guests here st my home a few years back. Guests in my home! For a full weekend. I have no memory at all of that visit. Yet I remember our first five Airbnb guests still, to this day. Bizarre.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Looking Back 50 Years: Why Do We Forget So Easily?My Profile

  8. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    I agree. I think novelty wears off and we stop paying as much attention. Like you, I sat spellbound in front of the TV for all those early space flights.

  9. Amelia
    | Reply

    I hate to say it but yes I think our default is emotion / novelty. I also think it is good for us to recognize this and read posts like yours to say “yeah, that was a good launch.” “Something positive to celebrate.”

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