How do we know what we know?

We all know so much. How reliable are our memories? Almost all my life – until I was about 70 – I carried a particular memory. It was of a child – me – of just 3, throwing a pair of scissors at the departing heels of an uncle (the gentlest of 3 uncles) because he had angered me. The memory had presumably been retained because my uncle was said to limp from time to time as a result of the injury I had caused him.

When I wrote my memoir (The Dance of Destiny), almost everything in my memory bank had been placed on the examination table. This enabled me to recount – within an appropriate context – an event of significance. To be certain that my memories were reliable, and not likely to be contradicted, I spent a long time sorting out experiences of substantial import: great sadness or tragedy, events of joyfulness or personal achievements, and other moments of significant impact. If I could not ‘visualise’ the event, occasion or experience, I asked myself whether my memory had been based on what I had been told.

Lo and behold, there were a few such ‘memories.’ I could not visualise in my memory throwing a pair of scissors (or anything else) at anyone, ever. I will not lie to myself or to anyone else – blame my mother! I subsequently wondered whether my mother had told me that story to constrain a bourgeoning hot temper. She must have; and it worked.

Guilt had led to emotional control throughout my life; except once when I nearly killed another person. That I do know.