through no fault of my own, i saw a fair proportion of the film titanic on sunday night. belinda & kal had the telly on and though i was mostly reading ‘a heartbreaking work of staggering genius’ it was often hard to choose which semi-competant populist exploitation of tragedy was worse & at least titanic had tits.
it’s not a bad film, visually impressive & suitably atmospheric but it’s hardly casablanca, i certainly wouldn’t have planned to see it more than once. i did see it in 1998 and hadn’t given it a single thought since then so I was surprised by how much of it i remembered, not just the plot.. which is simplistic in the extreme, or the dialog (worth forgetting) or even the actors (who are familiar enough from elsewhere) it was all that and more..
which reminded me that but it worth remembering that the common or garden human memory is pretty incredible.
Just consider how many books and films you can remember, how many different tunes you recognise as having heard before (granted you remember ‘that’ one but there are plenty of far less annoying ones you haven’t heard a million times that you still remember) . Not verbatim necessarily but you will without even trying recall thousands upon thousands of details. As an experiment find a book you haven’t read for ten years or a film you’ve only ever seen once a long time ago. Sit down and read or watch it, I guarantee that large portions of the plot and broad structure will be familiar (semantic memory) but far more impressive will be the sheer number of little details that come back to you.. the faces of minor characters, snippets of dialogue, the way someone slams a particular door, the intonation on a certain phrase, what’s in the background in some scene. This is episodic memory and it is amazingly expansive and yet efficient.
In a well-known experiment, psychologists showed volunteers 1000 unfamiliar pictures for just 2 seconds a time, 48 hours later they were shown these pictures randomly paired with 1000 new photos and had to choose which they had seen before.. on average people got over 900 correct! (though don’t get too smug.. even pigeons can do something similar)