I often tell the story of my driving experience in Ireland this past March, particularly the bits about adjusting to the opposite side, the random road signs and tiny (half-lane?) highways. I must have recounted these memories a dozen times, but a few days ago I had the strangest experience: as I was telling the story, the image in my head of driving along the Irish countryside was wrong somehow — I was driving on the left side of the car.
The more I thought about the trip, the more I realized that every memory had miraculously been reworked in my brain to have me driving American-style. Left-side drive, on the right side. When I got home I looked up photos from the trip and confirmed that indeed my recollection had been tampered with. Even more surprisingly, the more people I told about my memory failure, the more I realized that it’s not an anomoly of mine. Nearly everyone with a single experience of driving on the opposite side had adjusted their memories and put themselves on the wrong side of the car.
It makes sense from a technical perspective, namely that it’s easier to store memories as extensions of things we already know. Since driving on the left side of the road is a huge anomaly in my experience, it’s much easier to ignore that fact in the long run. Somehow the blending of old experiences and new has created a completely inaccurate picture. It definitely makes me think twice about trusting my mind’s eye.