Middle-aged person revisits his or her 6-year-old birthday party...

This is a speculative question about the nature of memory.

Suppose you’re a middle-aged person and a time machine could take you back to the site of your 6-year-old birthday party so that you could witness the entire scenario in real time, exactly as it happened (unable to interfere with events).

Which of these do you think would best describe the experience:

a. long-buried memories would come flooding back and the vivid familiarity of it all would make you feel as if you were truly reliving that moment in time

b. a few details would trigger recognition, but the scenario would be so strange and unfamiliar that it would be like watching a movie you had never seen before

c. it would be confusing and bewildering because there would be many details you had remembered wrong - e.g. a girl you remembered as having red hair was really a blonde, or someone significant was at the party who you didn’t remember being there, or there was an activity you imagined had happened but really hadn’t. in other words, false memories picked up as you had aged or memories that had gotten jumbled up with other memories had severely distorted the actual nature of events at the party

…or would some other description be better.

I’ve used the word “you” for simplicity’s sake, but what I’m really interested in is the commonality in how we all would experience this. If you know of any insights from science that would help answer this question please share them - otherwise just give it your best guess. Thanks.

My gut says b, but I really don’t have anything to back it up. But that seems most close to how I feel when someone is telling a story of a time we had together that I’d forgotten. Some of the memory sometimes comes back, but it feels as though it happened to someone else, and I’m never really “there” in the memory. I don’t do reminiscing with others well as a result. I’m seldom excited and share more details, generally I’m more, “Oh…yeah…I think I remember that…Have you tried the crab dip?” I have a pretty terrible memory for my own life. So I don’t think I’d be amazed at what I’d forgotten or misremembered, because I’d assume that I’d forgotten or misremembered a lot.

I would say B as well. My parents kept photos of all of my childhood birthdays up until the time I was about 13, and looking at these photos occasionally over the past decade or so keeps me from selecting C, since I have a visual reference and would be unlikely to have remembered people incorrectly. Also from about age 5 to age 11 I invited the same group of kids to my parties. I wouldn’t choose A because the moment would seem sort of re-manufactured.

Can’t answer. I never had a birthday party.

I think option b, but I have only a the odd scattered memories of one or more birthdays from my childhood. There were no notable ones because both my sisters had their birthdays within 10 days of mine but there were a lot of years between us, so there was usually some sort of combined family thing rather than a party. No way you are going to mix friends of so many ages. Never been attached to the idea of birthday celebrations.

I suspect B. I have no recollection of my 6th birthday party (unless it’s the one I celebrated jointly with my aunt (two days earlier) and Grandfather (two days later) in Florida, but I think that was my 8th.) I have not been back to the house we lived in when I turned 6 since we moved out that summer. I think certain things about the house would trigger memories, but the party itself would not.

Probably A; I remember several random details from my seventh birthday party without even really having to think about it, so I expect my sixth would come back to me pretty quickly.

Probably A. I remember this particular party very clearly, as it had a theme.

I remember my sixth birthday party pretty clearly. It was at the McDonald’s near my house. I have a whole stack of Polaroid pictures from the party, so I can even tell you who was there and what gifts I got.

I’ll go with B. My parents and my grandparents always had a camera in their hand when I was growing up.

In my mothers storage closet there are boxes and big suitcases filled with pictures. Sometimes I like to dig through there. It’s like a treasure hunt. I could literally spend hours sifting through those photos and not see the same one twice.

Sometimes, I’ll come across photos of myself as a small child that I haven’t seen since the time they were taken. The feeling I get is always a vague sense of recognition. Like I might remember a particular shirt or an old piece of furniture, but that’s about it.

I want to believe it’s ‘A’. Mostly because it means there’s a chance, maybe at the time of death, for us to relive, or at least, remember our lives with ‘ultraclarity’.

There is actually some basis to believe that we do remember things much more completely and precisely than we might otherwise think. In the 50’s, the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield showed that, in some individuals, stimulation of certain areas of the brain brought about complete, crystal clear, recollection of long forgotten events in their lives. It was described by some of his study subjects as like “watching a movie”.

Firstly I would bring Snake Mountain with me (Skeletor’s lair), because when I was 6 that it what I really wanted. I actually think I could remember my sixth birthday with a lot of clarity, I could tell you the names of most of the people who attended and IIRC I had a cake with green icing made to look like the surface of the moon and decorated with ‘space robots’.

My guess would be a mixture of all three. Some details would be remembered correctly, some would be forgotten, and some would be remembered incorrectly.

I think we have this time machine, and it is called a video camera. Are you freaked out by what you see on video? Do you get completely lost in your own memories upon seeing it? No? That’s what I’d expect to happen then.

I’d say that the most likely thing to happen is you remember some forgotten things and you realize you remembered a thing or two wrong, and that’s about it. You’d get to watch your memories like any normal video, and you’d remember having lived it. It wouldn’t be unfamiliar, and it wouldn’t be like a revelatory rush of a hundred things you’ve forgotten.

Frankly, our lives aren’t SO important and chock full of amazing things that I feel we’d be overwhelmed with forgotten stuff if we could relive mundane memories. A 6-year-old birthday party is pretty mundane compared to your first kiss or the day you were married or that big carribean trip or whatever big memory you like to think about from time to time. Of course, someone’s 6th birthday is a big memory so, it’d be cool for them and maybe they’d get very emotional over it. The average person wouldn’t though.

Almost certainly B. I have a terrible long term memory for stuff like this. I have absolutely no recollection of my 6th birthday. I don’t know if I had a party or not. I couldn’t name a single friend of mine from back then. The times I’ve discussed my early childhood with the rest of the family, almost nothing they mention brings back memories.

Maybe I’m repressing something. If it happened at my 6th birthday, then maybe it WOULD bring back a flood!

My father’s company shut down the plant the last week of July and he first week of August. My birthday is August 1st, so we were on vacation every year on my vacation and didn’t have a “party” until I was married. Bu if I was to go back to when I was 6 yrs old it would be to a small rented cottage on the S. Jersey shore. We would have a “special” dinner which would always include London broil steak and corn on the cob, store bought cake and a trip to the Boardwalk (Wildwood) for ice cream. I felt cheated and my siblings resented the special attention I received.

I don’t remember my sixth birthday at all. My fifth and seventh I do, in the later I remember my mother made a special cake. So it would be a blank.

Far more important and, I think emotionally problematic would be seeing long dead loved ones. My grandparents. Uncles and Aunts who have passed on. Younger versions of my parents.

Seeing, perhaps, my maternal grandfather before the series of heart attacks destroyed him?

Thanks to all for your contributions. I’ve been wondering about this subject lately because 30-40 year-old details from childhood keep popping into my mind, leading me to believe there is a reservoir of dormant memories richer and more intact than I had previously imagined. Hence the studies by Wilder Penfield mentioned by KarlGauss are of interest.

The other interesting dimension to this, which several of you have alluded to, is the question of photographic documentation and how that affects memories. I have photos of my 6th birthday party and therefore I “remember” it (also there was a special cake). I have no memory whatsoever of my 8th birthday party - because, apparently, photos weren’t taken. If photos of it were to emerge would I suddenly remember it?

My parents never took home movies, but I do wonder how others who grew up with videotape respond to looking at it decades later. Per Macca26’s comments, I wonder if “amazing things” actually are stuck more firmly in our memory or if commonplace sensations aren’t all there too. If in this time machine scenario the senses of smell and touch were brought to bear, how much would that intensify the experience? Another factor I avoided addressing in the original question is perspective - what if one is reliving the moment from inside of one’s younger body, instead of as an outside observer.

The emotional reactions you might get, as suggested by AK84, are another fascinating level to this (taking things further into sci fi territory). It’s already strange enough to see photos of my parents young; seeing them walk & talk in virtual reality would be something else.

I think some combination of A and B; I’d probably be most astounded at how young everyone looked, and how different the house and yard were back then. Seeing my mother in her 20s and my father at about 33 would be odd in the extreme; for whatever reason, my childhood/teenager memories all solidified with him always appearing at about 45-50, regardless of when the memories actually were.

I don’t really remember my 6th birthday at all, so I don’t think it would be confusing or misremembered.

For me it would definitely be option A.

For my my early childhood has a lot of great memories, birthday parties being highlights among them, so going back and experiencing my 6th birthday all over again would bring back so many good memories including the house, the people, my friends, the presents, and that wonderful cake my mom made for me.

Definitely A.