Burns are red bruises blue
Out with the old cheated by the new
Do you suffer from long-term
I don’t remember
—Amnesia by Chumbawamba (1997)
One of our favourite 1990s movies was the fantasy Shazaam which starred the comedian Sinbad who played the role of a genie. We have vivid memories of a huge genie with hands folded and smoke all around him. It was an amazing special effects movie of that era, right up there with The Mask.
Guess what? That movie doesn’t exist. That’s right. There were hundreds of people who thought this movie existed. But no such movie was ever made. To know more about this fictional movie, and the phenomenon of false collective memories, read this fascinating article.
Our memories tend to fade like old black-and-white photos and, worse, we tend to pollute them with subsequent events in our lives. Elizabeth Loftus, an American cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory, demonstrated the malleability and susceptibility of our memories using a simple experiment.
Loftus showed volunteers a series of films of car crashes and then tested their memories of these crashes. However, the questions she posed influenced the answers she received. For example, and we quote her from the book The Brain: The Story of You by neuroscientist David Eagleman: “When I asked how fast were the cars going when they hit each other, versus how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other, witnesses give different estimates of speed. They thought the cars were going faster when I used the word smashed.”
The Simplicity Paradigm rests on the three concepts of deep focus, deliberate practice and differentiated thinking. Our learning process in general and memories in particular play a key role in each of these areas. And so, our column today delves into the importance of memory, and provides readers with a few tips towards achieving a stronger, more robust memory.
Why memories matter: Perception and projection
As children, many of us would have idled away time looking up at the clouds and trying to figure out what shapes we could see in the sky. As adults, we might see a fellow passenger on a plane or a bus and tell ourselves that “she looks like so and so from college”. This form of “seeing-perceiving-relating to what’s in our memories” is a routine that all of us go through many times in a day.