The Final Cut

FinalCutThe Final Cut, a sci-fi movie starring Robin Williams, is an externalized illustration of the brain’s process of creating memories. The movie stresses how our belief in the truth of what we remember is often flawed by our limited perception and skewed interpretation of any given event, including every day activities.

In the movie, some people have opted to have chips implanted in their heads to record all their daily activities. Robin Williams is a cutter (an editor) of memories, who is brought in after someone dies. His job is to take those recordings and create a feature-length ‘film’ of memories as a keepsake for the deceased person’s family and friends.

Robin is the personification of what our own brains do, which is to analyze, edit, and store memories. Out of the millions of stimuli that we encounter every minute of every day, our brains decide what is worth keeping and what isn’t. It also needs to interpret those bits and pieces, and then determine how to fit them together into some type of cohesive event.

For instance, in getting ready to go to work, there is input from kids, spouse, TV/radio, emails, texts, pets, neighbors, and neighborhood. Your brain must decide what to take in and what to leave out, put it all together into some pattern that makes sense, and then store it under the heading “May 4, 2017, Thursday morning” (or something to that effect).

Now, if it’s very similar to every other morning, it may not even get a special title. It may just be entered into a group file called, “weekly mornings.” That makes it harder to pull out and review later, because it’s simply lumped with every other early morning routine. So, if someone asks if you brushed your teeth, you’ll probably say, “yes,” because that’s what you do every day. But what if you didn’t? What if, for some reason, you ran out of time, so skipped that step in your routine. It wasn’t a big enough deal for your brain to create a separate file for that day, so you can never be sure whether you really brushed them or not. But say your tire was flat and you had to take public transportation. That is different enough that the memory probably got its own little storage file. Especially, if you encountered someone strange and interesting on the bus or train that you had to take.

So, not every memory is sacred to your brain, and not every memory can be recalled in detail. Add to that the fact that your brain also has ego telling it what to do. Ego doesn’t like to look bad, so it’s going to tell your brain to skew certain things in your favor. Just like the cutter in the movie, you will store your memories, but some will ‘need’ a bit of editing.

Did you and your girl/boyfriend just break up? Well, obviously, it wasn’t your fault. Even if it was, it wasn’t; and that is what your brain will record in your memory. Did you just lose your job? Again, that memory will only be stored once the editing is done. The loss was a positive; the loss wasn’t your fault; the job was beneath you. All the details leading up to and including the day the event occurred will support this positive conclusion. While any of the ‘facts’ that don’t support the conclusion will be forgotten (or edited out). So, instead of seeing yourself as the one who was always neglectful, late, and irresponsible, it will be the person you were dating. Therefore, the memories your brain stores will support that conclusion, and any memories that indicate otherwise, will be eliminated from long-term storage.

Everyone wants to believe that their memories are truthful and infallible, but unfortunately, we all carry our own editor around with us everywhere we go. That means that every memory is just one version of reality. It also means that every person who was involved in the event, even just those every day occurrences such as getting ready for work, has their own version, their own memory.

So, the next time you question (even in your head) how someone could be recalling a moment or a day so differently from how you recall it, remember that you all have your own editor. And that editor has its own agenda and its own perceptions.

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Living in a land of make believe

We live in a false world, a land of make believe. It’s a world where pretense is the norm and truth is suppressed (supposedly for the betterment of everyone). But is it really better?

In my world, I must say only nice things, only pleasant things. I’m not supposed to say what I truly believe, feel, or think because it may offend or hurt someone else. But doesn’t lying hurt, too?

For example, at my job we cannot say anything that might hurt or offend someone else or in any way upset them. So, I must monitor every word I utter in an effort to be absolutely neutral in what I say. I also cannot reach out and physically touch someone—not a hug, not a light touch on the shoulder, or a comradely hand to the back—without taking the risk of being accused of sexual harassment.

And these same restrictions spill over to my life away from work, too. If those at work were to read my blog and found it somehow threatening, non-professional, or in any way hurtful, then I could be reprimanded. If I e-mail someone (on a personal e-mail account), or make comments on Facebook or Twitter, I can be accused of being a cyberbully.

So, what happened to the world of freedom of speech, to a world where truth of perception, belief, and feelings were welcomed instead of this half-baked Disney World where only banalities and neutral non-speak are acceptable?

Am I advocating bullying (in person or on the computer)? No, but then again, one man’s bullying is another man’s truth. How are we to learn if we cannot speak? How can a child learn sensitivity if they never experience pain—the pain of hurting someone else, or the pain of being hurt themselves?

Just because you tell a child that certain words are hurtful does not guarantee that they will understand. You probably grew up being called names or being excluded from activities, I think most of us have. So each of us has our own set of “hurtful”, “not nice” words or actions that we try to teach to others. But if a child never sees the result of using hurtful language or taking hurtful actions, or if they are never the recipient of those hurtful words or actions, they have only your word that those terms, phrases, or actions are “bad”.

Eventually, that won’t be enough. Eventually, all they will see is that their parents are afraid of certain actions or words. They will become curious and may simply try using those words or performing those actions, or they may become manipulative, using your fears to their advantage.

I understand wanting to spare others what we each went through—we all try to do that—but if we don’t allow others to make mistakes, if we don’t stop creating and enforcing rules that make us live in a false world based on pretense and insincerity, then we all suffer. I find it infinitely more stressful to be constantly watching and gauging everything I say and do for fear I may offend or hurt someone, than simply allowing myself to be who I am—someone who would not intentionally hurt someone, but may (occasionally) put my foot in my mouth. My life, then, becomes like a war zone, where each step I take can put me in the middle of a mine field, and each word I utter or each action I take can destroy my world.

I can no more stay silent (as stated in the old adage of saying nothing if you can’t speak nicely), than I can not write. Yet, how I am to gauge which words I write will annoy or hurt? I believe rather than police each other, we need to police ourselves—turn off those programs that you find offensive, do not read stories or writings that upset you, and by all means, walk away from someone whose ramblings you disagree with.