If you had the opportunity to go on a beautiful vacation, but as soon as you return home, your memory would be wiped of this experience and all the pictures you took would be erased, would you go? Is it worth it?
Daniel Kahneman briefly discusses this hypothetical in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.”
This concept was haunting for me to think about. At first, I could barely comprehend it. Why would I go on an amazing vacation if I'm just going to forget it? I can’t have the experience without the memory that follows it. If you forget everything, what’s the point?
This scenario pushes us to think about what we value more — the experience or the memory? Sometimes, it’s hard to live in the moment when you’re scrambling to take as many pictures as possible to document the experience, whether that be a vacation or graduation ceremony. Of course, these pictures are important; they hold numerous moments of your life and allow you to carry them with you in your pocket. They're right there whenever you want to revisit them.
I love going through my camera roll sometimes and seeing the pictures I took on a family vacation to Vermont or at my brother’s cross country meet. Looking at them makes me happy and allows me to revisit the experience I had and think about what I took away from it.
But did taking those pictures keep me from truly living in the moment and taking full advantage of the experience? Did I miss out? Maybe I did, but pictures help me document my experiences and give me a way to cherish those moments.
Indeed, experiences shape who we are. For an experience to impact us and really count, we need to remember it. If we were to forget the mistakes we’ve made, the times we’ve cried and the times we’ve been filled with joy, what are we here for? How would we grow?
It'd almost be like we turned into newborn babies with no awareness of the world around us. We have no experience and no way to store memories at an age that young. Our lives would be a blank slate, with no tool available to write things down and store them for later.
What if we’d learned something key to our well-being during this hypothetical vacation, but were to then forget it? What if we had the opportunity to do something we never could have imagined doing, like exploring a jungle, and along the way learn something new about ourselves or the people around us, and then forget it all? The beauty of life is found in the unexpected; choosing to forget these unexpected moments — both the beautiful and the bleak — is a mistake.
To answer Kahneman’s question: no, I wouldn’t sacrifice my memories for an experience I'll never remember. Even though there are things in my life I wish I didn’t remember, those things have taught me something. They've helped shape who I am and have helped me learn more about myself. Having a pet snake in kindergarten taught me I hate snakes; chemistry class taught me I don’t want to pursue chemistry for my career.
Ultimately, the memories we take away from our experiences define us. We need them to live and to learn. They're tangible things we feel physically and emotionally. I don’t want to forget hugging my soft, stuffed animal teddy bear from when I was 5. I don’t want to forget the thrill and adrenaline in the final 100 meters of a cross country race. These moments are not untouchable –– they live within us. Even the things that make us cry or fill us with sadness or anger: I wouldn’t give any of it up for the world.
Isabella Vesperini (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian.