Saturday, June 19, 2010

Slate Magazine's The Memory Doctor

Slate's William Salatan has recently written up an eight part series on false memories. I knew at once that this blog should form a link to it, but wanted to wait till I had at least  had a chance to read a bit. I've now read the first segment, in which Slate conducted its own experiment on implanting false memories by asking people to respond to a questionaire where they were asked about three true large political events and one of four false ones.

Upshot? People will pretty much believe anything you want to tell them about Hilary Clinton. Also? A whole lot of people will believe that they went up in a hot air balloon when they were a child if you have the doctored photo to prove it.

Actually, it's a lot more interesting than that if you check out the link. But coincidentally, I've just been reading a fun mystery novel,   A Dog About Town, by J.F. Englert. The series is narrated by a supersleuth labrador retriever named Randolph, and this is what Randolph has to say about memory:

Memory is a fickle thing. Ask ten people at the scene of a traffic accident what each saw and you will get ten different stories. The car was red. No, the car was black. The driver was old. No, the driver was little more than a child. The victim dove in front of the car. No, the victim slipped on a banana peel. This phenomenon is the bane of attorneys and the playground of neuroscientists and all those interested in the workings of the brain. The question is further complicated by emotion. Even those with the best memories should be aware that there is a process that colors what they remember with feelings. It is not simply a question of wanting to remember something a certain way, but of the hidden connections between positive and negative feelings, sometimes long past, that change the way we perceive the present even as it is happening.

I'd spell it out in alphabet letters if I could, but TRUST RANDOLPH.


  1. I remember that passage, one of the better observations from that acute fictional canine observer of our own species.

  2. I cottoned on to Randolph and his hidden but I suspect even savvier real life owner through your blog, so thanks!