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Smithsonian Magazine (May 6, 2010): How Our Brains Make Memories
Sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Montreal on a sunny morning, Karim Nader recalls the day eight years earlier when two planes slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He lights a cigarette and waves his hands in the air to sketch the scene.
At the time of the attack, Nader was a postdoctoral researcher at New York University. He flipped the radio on while getting ready to go to work and heard the banter of the morning disc jockeys turn panicky as they related the events unfolding in Lower Manhattan. Nader ran to the roof of his apartment building, where he had a view of the towers less than two miles away. He stood there, stunned, as they burned and fell, thinking to himself, "No way, man. This is the wrong movie."
In the following days, Nader recalls, he passed through subway stations where walls were covered with notes and photographs left by people searching desperately for missing loved ones. "It was like walking upstream in a river of sorrow," he says.
Like millions of people, Nader has vivid and emotional memories of the September 11, 2001, attacks and their aftermath. But as an expert on memory, and, in particular, on the malleability of memory, he knows better than to fully trust his recollections.