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My Memory Book, Ch. 4a

Chapter four of my book, tentatively entitled “False Memories and the Death of Jesus,” is where I address head-on the psychology of memory.   My principal interest, at the end of the day, involves the problems of memory, of how memories for things we experience or hear about can be frail, faulty, and even false.   That’s not to deny that most of the time our memories are pretty decent.   If they weren’t we wouldn’t be able to function, either as individuals or a society.   And so of course most of what we remember is what really happened.   At the same time, we often (more than we usually admit — even to ourselves) forget things and, more interesting and important, misremember things.

That obviously creates a big problem for historians.  If our access to the past is mainly through sources that have themselves remembered what happened – either because they were there or because they heard it from others (who possibly heard it from others who heard it from others, and so on) – and memories can be faulty or false, well, what does that do to our access to the past?

In this chapter I hit a couple of the highlights in the study of memory starting …

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Can A Made-Up Story Be A False Memory?
My Memory Book, ch. 3



  1. Avatar
    Triassicman  April 10, 2015

    Bart, a historian once said, “History is a positive science, like physics or chemistry, it is not gobbledegook. Like all positive sciences, you look at all angles, and make a positive deduction from it. If memory is not 100% reliable, even in the short term, would you disagree with the above statement?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 10, 2015

      No, I’m afraid I don’t think that doing history is like doing chemistry. In chemistry you can repeat the experiment time after time to produce the same result, and change a single variable to see what happens then, and do it again time after time. This will establish a predictive probability about what will happen if you do the experiment yet one more time. With history, you can’t repeat the experiment. And you aren’t trying to establish predictive probabilities about what *will* happen but antecedent probabilities about what *did* happen. I don’t think that makes it gobbledegook though!

  2. Avatar
    Triassicman  April 10, 2015

    Sorry….forgot quotations after ….deductions from it”.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 10, 2015

    Very interesting so far. Keep going.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 10, 2015

    I especially find the concept of the “gist” or the main memory to be very interesting..

    Long ago, scientists became interested in cellular changes in memory. For awhile, transfer RNA or memory RNA was thought to be important in memory and it was hypothesized that this transfer RNA could be fed from one organism, after it learned a given task, to another organism thus transferring memory of a learned task from one organism to another organism. I actually think that some Duke investigators were interested in this cellular memory. My understanding is that it did not turn out as hypothesized. Did you run across any current proposed biochemical or cellular basis for memory in your reading?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 11, 2015

      I’ve read a bit of the neuro-science, but most of it is well over my neurons!

  5. Avatar
    Caiaphas  April 12, 2015

    Perhaps Brian Williams can find some comfort in your findings!

    Us Weekly (a reputable source, to be sure!): “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. I would not have chosen to make this mistake. I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another. Did something happen to my head? Maybe I had a brain tumor, or something in my head?”


  6. Avatar
    BobHicksHP  April 28, 2015

    Sorry to be late to the party, but I’m trying to catch up.

    I’m curious about the “Cambridge undergraduates.” Is there a measurable corollary between “IQ” and memory? I admit, there is an intuitive assumption in play. But given all of the factors involved (which you so well document), I wonder about the actuality of the matter. How much is memory impacted by organizational skill versus one’s level of focus on a particular subject?

    Case in point. I would remember meeting you and shaking your hand. But the event would not be as significant to you (and I wouldn’t expect it to be), and thus your retention not as crucial. Couldn’t this play into the memories of a famous “messiah” figure, and the comparative positions of “fishermen” versus Pharisees?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 28, 2015

      I’m not sure about a corollation between IQ and memory. Maybe someone else does? But in any event, that’s not what he was referring to. he was saying, I think, that Cambridge students as those proficient in learning would be more adept at looking at a written text and remembering what was in it than someone not trained to read texts.

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