Remembering the day before yesterday

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Remembering the day before yesterday


I’ve been keeping a diary of “the day before yesterday” for two months now. As a human grows old, the brain gradually loses the ability to convert short-term memories into long-term memories for storage. In order to delay the deterioration of memory, Japanese doctor Takuji Shirasawa recommended writing journal entries by recalling what happened the day before yesterday. I began my journal of the day before yesterday in early June.

But I struggled from the beginning. I didn’t expect it would be so hard to recall what my day was like just two days ago - not one month ago. I often couldn’t remember with whom I had lunch with or how my evening went. I recalled I went to lunch with four colleagues from the JoongAng Ilbo to meet another person, but I could only remember three of them.

After roaming around the corridor of my memories for more than an hour, it occurred to me that the other person gave a bunch of books to one of my colleagues, and he had taken them to the office. When I recalled the conversation and the scene, the name and the face became very clear. I was pleased, as if I got a full mark on an exam, but at the same time, I felt sad about my deteriorating memory. I have to confess that I had to refer to my schedule book for one-third of my journal entries.

Zoologists say chimpanzees and orangutans can remember three years back. A group of Danish scientists showed 15 chimpanzees and four orangutans where to find tools that help them obtain food. Three years later, the primates were brought to the same environment, and they immediately remembered where the tools were. Primates surely share their ancestors with humans. In another study, researchers inserted false memories into the brains of mice. While humans have the best memories among the creatures living on earth, we cannot be overly confident because memories can be distorted, lost, modified or implanted.

Memory deterioration by age varies by individual. When I read literary critic Yu Jong-ho’s autobiographical essay, “My Years Before and After the Liberation, 1940-1949,” I was astonished by his admirable memory of remembering the names of all his teachers and classmates at his elementary school. When mathematician Leonhard Euler couldn’t sleep, he multiplied each number from 1 to 100 to the sixth power in his head and then added them all up.

For ordinary people, we are more than happy to keep our memories until we grow old. Middle-aged people can start revamping their memories by trying out the challenge of writing journal entries about events that happened two days ago. You will at least get into the habit of trying to remember and recall trivial events. Most of all, you come to realize that memories are not so certain. Many disputes and discords around the world begin because of the dogmas that combine incomplete memories with biased interpretations.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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