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20 Quotes About the Mystery of Memory

Memory: that slippery beast that dictates not just the moments we recall from our lives, but the very narrative we live by. Memory is the way we encode and store information about what’s happening around and to us at any given moment. It is also, importantly, how we understand who we are.

The memories we carry with us are how we learn from our mistakes, and how we hold on to our biggest joys. And the ability to store away tidbits of information about the past — our favorite songs from middle school, whether we had breakfast earlier today, or what happens when we put our hand on a hot surface — informs how we exist in the present, and how we plan for the future.

The caveat, of course, is that memories can often be unreliable and easily influenced by everything from heightened emotions to corroborations (or the lack thereof). What we remember from a moment might be different from what someone else does, which is just part of what makes the concept of memory so fascinating. Here, we’ve rounded up 20 quotes about the mystery, complexity, and importance of how we hold onto the past.

The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.
— Lois Lowry, author

You don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.
— John Green, author

That’s what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.
— Haruki Murakami, novelist

Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.
— Tennessee Williams

We didn’t realize we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.
— A.A. Milne

Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.
— Stevie Wonder

We do not remember days, we remember moments.
— Cesare Pavese, novelist

We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection.
— Oliver Sacks, neurologist

Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.
— Cicero, Roman statesman

Without memory, each night is the first night, each morning is the first morning, each kiss and touch are the first.
— Alan Lightman

Memories are like salt: the right amount brings out the flavor in food, too much ruins it.
— Paolo Coehlo

One must have a good memory to be able to keep the promises one makes.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

The past is always tense, the future perfect.
— Zadie Smith, novelist

God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.
— J.M. Barrie

Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.
— Oscar Wilde

In memory everything seems to happen to music.
— Tennessee Williams

Imaginings too easily become memories, memories imaginings.
— Ian McDonald, novelist

For all of us, explicit memory makes it possible to leap across space and time and conjure up events and emotional states that have vanished into the past yet somehow continue to live in our minds.
— Eric Kandel, psychiatrist and neuroscientist

Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.
— Jane Austen

The true art of memory is the art of attention.
— Samuel Johnson

Photo credit: Agence Opale/ Alamy Stock Photo

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About the Author
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen is a writer, editor, and community builder based in Seattle, Washington.
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