• Question: How does the mind allow you to change the content of memories but not the content of your own thoughts?

    Asked by Gleccy on 8 Nov 2023.
    • Photo: Jess Davies

      Jess Davies answered on 8 Nov 2023:

      Memories are stored in connections between brain cells, and over time, these connections fizzle out, meaning the memory isn’t quite as accurate.

      There have been some really interesting studies to show how suggestive we are in filling in these gaps in our memories, depending on the questions asked about what happened (see this classic psychology experiment on the reliability of eye witness testimonies in solving crimes https://www.simplypsychology.org/loftus-palmer.html).

      Thoughts though, are happening in the present and are created new in our brain. So it’s kind of a time thing – if you take a 10min walk to an unknown place, you are aware of what you are doing right at that time (ignoring any day dreaming!). But if you were asked 5 days, months, or years, later about what route you had taken for that 10min walk which you only ever did once, your memory of it would have probably faded to varying degrees.

    • Photo: Eleonora Roschi

      Eleonora Roschi answered on 9 Nov 2023: last edited 9 Nov 2023 11:47 am

      Because thoughts are created at a super fast rate, and your brain is aware of them in real time. It would be very hard to change them while they are formed. But then, these thoughts are “moved” to short-term and long-term storage, and the brain has more time and capacity to change them, reassess them, or even delete them. That’s why our memories are sometimes incomplete or absent.

    • Photo: Michael Schubert

      Michael Schubert answered on 9 Nov 2023:

      Everyone else’s answers here are excellent! But it’s possible to change the way you think, which can change the content of your thoughts. You might not be able to change an individual thought as you have it (because, like Eleonora said, they’re instantaneous), but you can exercise your brain to use different pathways. This is how many kinds of therapy work – so, for instance, if you were terrified of dogs, therapy would work with you on thinking about situations with dogs in different ways, so that your thoughts don’t immediately go down the “terrified” path when you see one.