Baker Academic

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Very Interesting Example of Memory Refraction - Le Donne

This piece is really worth a read. You may be interested to know that Daniel Schacter, whom is cited in this piece, is a major player in social memory studies and "memory distortion" specifically. Notice that a very dynamic mnemonic frame is established in the first story about the bomb. Notice that the "false" memory of the second bombing recounts an event that was witnessed by a family member. So, ironically, the "false" memory conveys a historical event quite well.

Interesting examples here of cryptomnesia too including a great example of narrativized typology.

Here are the last few paragraphs:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable. 
We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information. 
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.
...absolutely love this stuff.


  1. Terrific article! Thanks for pointing it out.

    Anthony, on this site you use terms such as "social memory", "collective memory" and "cultural memory". All of these forms of non-individual memory are confusing me. I sense that you mean different things with each of these terms, but I'm not sure what they are. I understand from your little "buch" a little bit about how our individual memories are shaped by social factors, so I'm guessing that the terms you're using represent different forms of social control over individual memory (unless you're suggesting something more mystical, like a collective unconscious).

    You also posted a video of feats of a modern memory master, adding to my confusion. Isn't there a distinction between memory and memorization?

    As long as I'm on the subject ... doesn't there come a time when what we're talking about is too attenuated from the impact of real-world events to be properly called "memory"? Does memory swallow up the field of hermeneutics? If what I know about HJ is from my reading of the NT (and from what I've heard said about the NT), do I really "remember" HJ? There are times when you talk about "memory", and I think you're talking about "thought", or "cognition", or our search for meaning.

    I've raised way too many questions, so consider this an invitation from one reader to discuss more of the basics as the opportunity arises.

  2. Yeah, I've been wondering this too. Considering the mental process of informational recall, is knowledge the same thing as memory?