The nature of memory (and the Wunderblocken)

This is going to be a bit rambly. I’ve been thinking recently about the weird ways human memory works, and how it’s not nearly as straightforward as a biological video tape. This was inspired by a conversation I had with my brother a couple of months ago; we were discussing what he should get me for Christmas.

Brother: makes comment about buying me woodworking supplies.
Me: You could get me a Wunderblocken.
Brother: Oh, yeah! What show was that?

As it happens, I did remember the name of the show (Murphy Brown), and even though we only saw the episode in question once, over 20 years ago, we both remembered the name Wunderblocken and the gag that went with it. (Murphy orders an expensive ‘educational toy’ that’s just a cube of wood.) But here’s the strange thing: we each remember the Wunderblocken itself differently. I remember it as plain and six inches square, and my brother remembers it as about a foot square with rubix-cube-like panels.

The clip is memorable enough that it must be on Youtube, but I haven’t looked it up. To me, which one of us is ‘right’ is less interesting than why the difference arose in the first place. Obviously our brains don’t just record memories like DVDs, but what are they doing? Are there any benefits to having fluid memory? Does anyone have any thoughts on memory and/or odd-memory anecdotes?

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