Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Sleight of Memory



By John Bradshaw

Our memories can easily deceive us, for good or for ill.

John Bradshaw is Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at Monash University. This is an edited version of a script broadcast on Ockham’s Razor.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Not long ago I came across a box of old possessions containing a picture book entitled My Farmyard Friends. My mother had sent the material years earlier when clearing out my juvenilia, and it had long languished until the time came for another generational spring clean. The book immediately evoked vivid recall of its pictures in the finest detail. It also brought back a much darker memory, but more of that shortly.

I was particularly struck by the fact that merely the physical presence of the book could provide sufficient context for the re-emergence of long-inaccessible associated memories that probably could never have otherwise re-emerged, no matter how careful and extensive the verbal prompting. Indeed we all know how finding an old theatre ticket in a long-disused suit can bring back many a long-forgotten emotional memory. Maybe we should hoard all of life’s trivia to recapture old loves, triumphs and disasters!

What was the dark secret associated with the children’s bestiary? Around the age of three my big toe became severely infected, with exquisite pain and impressive swelling and discolouration. In those late-wartime years in England, the family doctor visited you rather than the other way round. The toe was to be lanced, and to distract me I was presented with this wonderful new book to look at during the procedure. Not only do I remember that the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.