Do memories define us?

A while ago I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And as previously done in the Harry Potter movies the memories of the muggles (no-magic folk) where erased. It didn’t come as shock. But this time it got me thinking about how much memories define us.

Harry Potter

Who are we? At a certain point in the Harry Potter movies, Hermione takes a deep breath and erases the memories her parents have of her, or rather had, to protect them from the war that was going on in the magical world. And it worked. Her parents forgot all about her and you could see Hermione being erased from the family pictures as she was putting the spell on them. Her parents forgot her and went on with their lives. The hard part is you can’t blame them, because they ‘simply’ don’t remember having a daughter.

In a sense now they’re not even parents anymore. Which begs the question: do you have to be able to remember, to be? Do your memories shape you as a person? Are you just an empty shell without them?

If I’d ask you who you are. You’d probably tell me your name. And if I’d ask you to introduce yourself. You’d probably start talking about your profession, school or work. But what if you don’t remember those things? What if you don’t remember the things you went through or are going through right now. It would be like you’re a blank page. Like you were just born, fresh, without memories, experiences or an identity until you’d open your eyes and look into the world and your first and oldest memory would be created.

Now in this scene only a part of the lives of Hermione’s parents is erased. But even though is ‘just’ a part it shows us a glimpse of how easy it could be to either forget or be forgotten in this big world. We all want to be remembered. Leave our mark. Some don’t mind whether it’s good or bad things they’re remembered for and some do. And even though leaving a distinct mark shouldn’t be a problem because we’re all unique, we are all unique. The quality becomes a ubiquitous thing which lessens it’s value. It shouldn’t and yet still it does.

Again, who are we? We could be, our personality, the choices we make or the things we go through. Our personality is shaped by what we went through, who we met, where we grew up. And just like that, our personality affects who we meet and so on.

It’s all so connected, but let’s say we are our experiences. In that case when does a person truly know you? Say a stranger you’ve never met, knows everything and I mean everything about you and what you have been through in your life (in the least stalky way possible). Would that stranger really know you? If not, what makes you, you if it’s not your experiences?

If you can be you without your memories it implies everybody has a ‘constant’ thing defining them before you have any experiences or after you lose them. A constant thing. Something immeasurable challenging it’s existence.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

How can and do we learn? In Fantastic Beast the memories of the muggles were erased because they aren’t supposed to know of the magical world. We fear what we don’t know, we always have and still do. Look at the refugee crisis. We don’t know the people in need and the feeling of empathy is often clouded by fear. The muggles weren’t to eager to bond with the magical folk because they were probably terrified of them. Terrified of the unknown. But also of the power the unknown people have in this case.

Magic is powerful. People with magic are powerful and I get that ‘normal people’ like you and me (assuming you’re a muggle) would be scared as hell if we found out about of world like that.

Before wizards went underground, when we were still being hunted by muggles, young wizards and witches sometimes tried to suppress their magic to avoid persecution. So instead of learning to harness or to control their powers, the developed what was called an Obscurus – Newton Scamander


An important theme in Fantastic Beasts is accepting or suppressing your identity. An Obscurus is created when you suppress your true magical identity. It’s a sort of a dark outburst. The character that developed an obscurus in the story felt misunderstood, underappreciated and unaccepted.

So,how can we learn? How can two worlds learn to live with each other if one world has gone underground in hiding? We learn they were forced to, that they were being hunted by the muggles. They were hunted by fear, god knows it does crazy things to people. But is hiding and erasing memories really the answer?

How do we learn? There are a few ways that we learn things. By trial and error. We touch a hot pan and remember not to next time. We learn by imitating, conditioning and adaptation. But how do we learn to live in an unknown situation with unknown people and things?

With every form of learning memory seems pretty important. You can’t do something you did or purposely not do something if you don’t remember ever doing it in the first place. You can’t get used to something if you don’t encounter it. And make every time you contact it the first and last. Even if people have an insight and choose to accept something, they might not in the future because they simply won’t remember having in the past. Conditions might different and they might never have that insight again.

Our personality and the way we behave around people changes all the time. Constantly really. It’s rather fragile, which is pretty scary. I’d rather not think I’ll go dark side, the second shit hits the fan. But no one knows. Circumstances affect who you become, good or bad. But not remembering those, mean you stay the same. You grow from your experiences. Do those experiences have to be good?

Westworld

The good, the bad, and what makes us human. Westworld is a series about androids living in a western theme park. The androids were created by humans. And when they were created they gave them a cornerstone memory, the memory their identity was built around.

It’s my cornerstone, isn’t it? The thing my whole identity is organized around.

Your memories are woven into your identity.

Those cornerstone memories were often bad. A traumatic experience. If you would take that away, they would fall apart.
I’m wondering whether I have a cornerstone memory. Do you? Can you think of a memory, a point in your life that changed everything? Were you the one that caused it, or did someone else? How much of your personality depends on that moment happening? And finally is it a good or bad (cornerstone) memory?

The androids are supposed to be as human-like as possible and I think a big part of that is the bad that comes with the good. It shapes us just as much, maybe more. Bad things happen, unfortunately about as often as good things do. My final question: how unfortunate is it if it’s one of the things that makes you you?