Sunday, March 16, 2008

That funny thing memory.

Scientists and skeptics are keenly aware of the nature and limitations of human memory (or at least they should be). While so-called “believers”, and the public at large, generally put unjustified faith in the accuracy of memories, especially their own. This often constitutes the gulf that separates believers and skeptics on many issues.

Many people remember being abducted by aliens or seeing ghosts. Advocates of dubious medical treatments often site stories of people who were apparently cured by the treatments. The stories often seem very compelling, the facts all line up, the conclusion seems obvious. Yet skeptics will easily shake their head and say, “I just don’t believe it.” This frustrates the believers no end. How can the skeptics dismiss what so many people have experienced, they wonder.

The reason is simple - human memory is incredibly unreliable, and most people grossly underestimate the extent to which their own memories can be altered and fabricated.


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