Sunday, November 30, 2008

So Many Memories

Dangerous Intersection posted about this interesting article on how false memories can be created and made convincing. 

Apparently it's not even that hard! Also, since the article is from 1997, apparently this isn't really news, so who knows how many of my carefully stored reminiscences are complete fabrications? 

Well, that's not quite true. You have to at least have some access to the person and get them to think about the past and about things that might have happened. I don't recall anyone ever taking that kind of time with me. Although, if there's a complementary technique for removing actual memories, that might not mean much. 

If there is such a complementary technique, it's not mentioned in this article (though here's a mention of a pill that can remove the immediacy of memories).

This does make you wonder to what extent you can trust your own mind---and if you can't trust your own mind, where does that leave you? In yet another relationship with a slippery, unreliable thing working in its own self-interest. The difference between oneself and other people blurs. Everything is alien to some degree, even inside your own head. 

Weird, I tells you.

I'm not actually that concerned about having sinister people implanting and removing memories from my head to further some conspiracy.* But it's interesting to me to think about, not least because I myself nearly implanted one false memory in my head that I know of, so who knows on how many other occasions I might have been successful?

It was no big deal: I was on a car trip with my mother and a friend, and my mother was explaining some part of our past that I, as a child, had understood differently than I understood it as she told it to her friend, and I thought "so that's how that worked out!"

I imagined turning to my sister to exchange this new understanding: pictured how we'd nod at each other if we were both there in the back seat.

Later, I remembered that moment, and really thought that my sister had actually been there...only the fact that I remembered other things about the circumstances, including that I was the only kid along on that trip, made me realize that I had made up the part about exchanging a significant glance with my sister. If I hadn't particularly remembered the other details, if more time had passed before I thought about it again, who knows?

Not that complicated, not that hard, not that sinister...but also, the brain, not that trustworthy. 

I suppose we just have to make peace with the slippery, unreliable things in our heads, try to understand both their strengths and their limitations, and do the best we can.  

Here's to you, mind-thing! Now let's get back to killing you with wine.

*I already accept that this is true, and it doesn't bother me. I'm confident that our new insect overlords have our best interests at heart.

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