The Pillars of Skepticism: The Fickleness of Human Memory

It has been noted, both scientifically and anecdotally, that human memory is not like that of a computer, getting stored onto a hard drive. No, no, no, rather it’s a dynamic process, intimately connected to what we are looking for. When people search their memory to give an account of what they have seen, they use any fragments or clues available to them, including those from phrases, subsequent events, and what they know about these types of events. Thus people may plug in holes in their memory with what they think probably happened, and one can imagine people making up memories because they think that’s most likely what happened. One can also see people perhaps altering their memory in such a manner so as to be a sort of confirmation bias for them, thus their memory of the event conforms to whatever narrative or viewpoint they adhere to and thus one objective event can have multiple different accounts of it based on the eyewitness.

This suggests our memories are being constantly reconstructed; causing us to claim to have seen things that did not occur, or not seen things that were there. In consequence, our memories can be easily polluted by suggestions from other sources. If not apparent yet, relying on the fickle memories of eyewitnesses (even more dangerously one eyewitness) is a foolish undertaking. On a darker note though, this suggests that one can perhaps manipulate people who’ve witnessed something in a subtle manner so as to alter their memory and viewpoint. Or perhaps one can make very believable lies that are no outlandish whatsoever and people will believe.

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