Is the past you weren’t alive to experience in black and white? Definitely NOT, but that’s not the way your brain sees it…

I don’t know about you, but I have the experience of envisioning the stories my grandparents tell me in black and white. As a matter of fact, unless I’ve seen color video or pictures from a time before I was born I automatically visualize any story from history in black and white. This is a very curious phenomenon to me. Do you envision the past you haven’t ‘experienced’ in black and white, even though you know that the colors of nature and people were just as vibrant back then? If so, please leave a comment below and describe your experience.

If it’s not just me that has this experience, I think this phenomenon might give us a window into the properties of memory. Memory from events in our lives are reconstructed in our minds when we are tasked with remembering the past. This reconstruction is brought about by a particular network of brain regions. I’m studying how these reconstructive brain regions interact when you’re remembering events from your lives in my dissertation. It seems that these brain regions aren’t only involved in reconstruction of our past, but also construction of our future and pasts that we didn’t experience. In other words, these brain regions are involved in putting memories from our experiences together into reconstructed pasts or imagined events in the future (your children’s wedding) and non-experienced past (the 1920s). I think that if we have only experienced a particular time in the past (i.e. the 1920s) in black and white that this reconstruction network has a hard time imbuing color to the imagination of what it was like to live back then. If this is right, as time passes this phenomena will start to disappear from people’s experience because the number of people who haven’t seen color footage from a time in which they weren’t living will decrease. The progress of technology for documenting history in a color video format will change how we see history in our heads.

Post what you think about this idea in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think and what your experiences are…

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