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Your Deceptive Mind Part 4: “Flaws and Fabrications of Memory”

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By Frank Simons

This Thursday, the Meditation Center presents part 4 of the 24-part Great Courses series Your Deceptive Mind. This week’s showing is called “Flaws and Fabrications of Memory.”

There are numerous ways in which human memory is flawed. Far from being a passive recording of events, memory is constructed, filtered through our beliefs, and subjected to contamination and morphing over time. Memories can even be fused or entirely fabricated. It’s naive to implicitly trust our memories, and it’s important to recognize that we need to be realistic and humble about the limitations and flaws of human memory. Without external, objective verification, we can’t know how accurate the details of our memories are. Recognizing the fallibility of human memory is an important step toward true critical thinking.

Like perceptions, memory is not a passive recording; instead, our memories are constructed entirely by our brains. They are tied together with everything that we think and believe with our internal model of reality. There are different types of memory. Short-term memory is a several-minute window of memory that is stored in the hippocampus. Working memory is our ability to hold a few bits of information in our minds and manipulate it in some way. Long-term memory is stored more diffusely throughout the brain for a long period of time. Human memory can be incredibly powerful in terms of raw capacity, but there are various ways in which it is limited.

There is a false assumption that all problems with memory are associated with recall. Some memories never form; we may experience something but never consolidate it from short-term into long-term memory. Memories also degrade, fuse, and morph over time. A study of memory recall about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks found that both accuracy and consistency degrade equally over time. Confidence also decreased at about the same rate as accuracy did. Confidence is not a good predictor of accuracy of memory. We tend to naively assume that if we are confident in a memory it must be accurate, but the research does not support this.

The course is presented by Steven Novella, MD, academic neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine. He is host and producer of the award-winning podcast, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. He writes a regular column for Skeptical Inquirer. He maintains a personal blog, NeuroLogica Blog, covering news and issues in neuroscience, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr Novella is the founder and senior editor of Science-Based Medicine, a group medical and health blog.

The video will be shown at 5:30pm on Thursday, July 19 at the Center, Callejón Blanco 4.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Your Deceptive Mind Part 4: “Flaws and Fabrications of Memory”

Thu, Jul 19, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejón Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted

044 415 156 1950


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