I count on and trust my senses and my memory. After experiencing several optical, auditory, and kinesthetic illusions, I’m not quite as certain about my senses as I once was. So, if I’m dedicating illusions to memory and then trusting those memories today, wouldn’t that present a distorted view? Why do I trust them so much? Doesn’t make much sense.
“People tend to place greater faith in the accuracy, completeness and vividness of their memories than they probably should.” (Simons1)
Ya think so? As I’ve managed to survive into my sixties, I appreciate how fallible my memory is – especially when someone challenges my recall of an event with their recall of the same event. Sometimes it seems we’re talking about an entirely different event. As a defense mechanism, memory just ain’t what it used to be.
3 Misconceptions about Memory
Let’s consider three misconceptions about my memory and the truth about them based on scientific study of the phenomenon by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign2.
- Misconception – Human memory is like a video camera that accurately records information for later evaluation.
- Truth – “We’ve known since the 1930s that memories can become distorted in systematic ways. For example, University of California professor Elizabeth Loftus and colleagues have managed to introduce entirely false memories that people believe and trust as if they had really happened.”
- Misconception – Memories do not change once the experiences are embedded in memory.
- Truth – “We’ve known since the 1980s that even memory for vivid, very meaningful personal events can change over time. Our memories can change even if we don’t realize they have changed. Cornell University psychology professor Ulric Neisser showed that personal memories for the Challenger space shuttle explosion changed over time”
- Misconception – The testimony of a single confident eyewitness is adequate evidence to convict someone of a crime.
- Truth – “Even confident witnesses are wrong about 30 percent of the time. That means that if a defendant can’t remember something, a jury might assume they are lying. And misremembering one detail can impugn their credibility for other testimony, when it might just reflect the normal fallibility of memory.”
“The fallibility of memory is well established in the scientific literature, but mistaken intuitions about memory persist.” (Chabris1)
If I can’t count on my senses or memories, what can I count on? Perhaps it depends on why I depend on them. For the most part, I rely on my senses and memories to validate reality – in defense of my beliefs. What will I do now that I know my memories and senses cannot be counted upon to give me accurate and truthful information?
What to Do?
It seems to me a bit of skepticism might fit well into my equations – along with a little humility towards others. I’m learning how okay it is to allow others to challenge my perceptions and memories – useful fodder for awakening in me an awareness of who I am beyond illusions and misunderstandings.
I don’t have to be right, ya know! Life will continue with or without my understanding of it. Perhaps it’s okay to be incorrect – now and then… 😉
- Union College psychology professor Chris Chabris and University of Illinois psychology professor Daniel Simons coauthors of “The Invisible Gorilla.”
- “What People Believe About How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population.” Online or from the U. of I. News Bureau. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign