Kabeja, McRobbie writes, was biking, when he was hit by a van with enough force to knock his brain out of place inside his skull. When he came out of a medically induced coma three weeks later,
McRobbie writes, "doctors told his family he might not remember anything from before the accident, or remember them or who he was, that he might have amnesia." But Kabeja woke up full of memories.
The only problem: None of those things were true!
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Kabeja clung to his new memories, and his family and friends played along. But there was no pregnancy. There was no private plane. There was no job interview, which Kabeja realized only after he called MI6 and learned their offices had been closed the day of the accident.
In that sense, McRobbie argues, Kabeja's brain was simply going a step further than ours do, every day, when we recall a piece of the past. No autobiographical memory is a fixed, literal record of what really happened; memories are malleable, morphing each time we call them forth, to accommodate new information stored elsewhere in the brain. Sometimes, this means small tweaks; other times, it means we're left with recollections that others might see as outright fabrications. Even people with extraordinary capacities for recall, research has shown, are prone to inadvertently making things up.
Kabeja's false memories then, may have been an attempt to make sense of the long gap when he was unconscious in the hospital — without any real autobiographical memories of that stretch of time, his brain may have simply pulled other memories from elsewhere to fill in the lost weeks. "When you wake up, your brain is trying to reconnect pieces because your brain is trying to recover that sense of you, that sense of memory, that sense of history," Julia Shaw, a memory researcher at London South Bank University, told the Globe. "And in that process of recovery and essentially healing, you can make connections in ways that are fantastical and impossible" — but not so far removed from memory as we might like to think.
If our brain has its own operating program where it writes, stores and re-writes information like a computer hard drive, then any interruption of this normal brain function could lead to dramatic "new false memories" being created to explain one's current situation.
Memories (or in LOST, at times, the loss of the collective memory of the characters) was an ebb and flow in the story lines. Where the flashbacks and backstories really true? Or were they the reconstruction of different bits of information and fantasy caused by brain injuries to the surviving passengers of the plane crash?