Can false memories explain mass sightings of the risen Christ?

Summary

It is widely recognised that the Christian religion could not have emerged without the first Christians experiencing the risen Christ after his death on the cross. These appearances are considered as hallucinations by secular scholars. Mass sightings of Jesus are problematic, however, as collective hallucinations are unknown to clinical psychologists. The world-renowned Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman proposed they can be accounted for through one person hallucinating Jesus and thereafter inducing false memories of having had the same experience in the mind of all other people present at the event. I argued that the experimental evidence presented by Ehrman is totally inadequate to show this is a plausible scenario. It is very unlikely that the testimony of the hallucinating person would be sufficient to make hundred of other persons “remember” having seen and heard Jesus if they had had no such experiences at the time of the gathering.

Introduction

Those of us who have an interest in unusual, paranormal phenomena that seem to question and event contradict the modern scientific paradigm know there are incidents where a whole group of people pretend to have witnessed something that isn’t supposed to exist.

One good example are the visions of Fatima where groups of people saw on several occasions strange phenomena they attributed to the Virgin Mary.

Fatima_Sighting

One other example of great importance to the philosophy of religion is the sightings of the risen Jesus after his humiliating death on the cross.

jesus-resurrection

According to the apostle Paul, Jesus “appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

The problem is that we have no evidence whatsoever that two (let alone 200) brains can produce the same hallucination at the same time. The corresponding psychological literature just doesn’t exist. In that case, I think that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If collective hallucinations were real, we would have (in 2017) many reports from mental health specialists describing their occurrences in their patients.

What is more, all examples of putative mass hallucinations beg the question by assuming from the outset there are no paranormal phenomena.

 

Can a person’s hallucination create false memories in other people’s mind?

Bart Ehrman is a renowned secular Biblical scholar who aims at explaining the beginning of Christianity in purely naturalistic terms, i.e. without appealing to any miracles he views as incredibly improbable by definition.

Whilst he seemingly first defended the idea that Jesus’ apparitions were due to collective hallucinations, he backtracked from this position in a later blog post.

Instead, he proposed that such alleged mass sightings (and the reports thereof) are produced from a combination of  a single individual experiencing a hallucination with the false memories stemming from the contamination of the minds of other people who were present with him at that time.

For starters, false memories are seemingly real memories that actually do not correspond to what truly happened.

Following the great psychologist Elisabeth Loftus, I find it useful to make a distinction between “ordinary” false memories and “big” (or “radical”) false memories.

“Ordinary” false memories are basically your misremembering things about a real event without distorting its main features. Examples can concern the colour of a car that sped away from the police, the physical appearance of a rapist or having watched a movie about a real catastrophe even if you didn’t.

“Big” false memories, on the other hand, mean that you have memories about an event that never happened, neither to you nor to anyone. Examples are memories of being the victim of satanic rituals, alien abductions, or more mundanely of having been sexually abused by one’s parents even though this never happened.

false-memories

Granted, that distinction is not sharp and there is certainly a smooth transition between both categories. But I find it useful nonetheless. As I argued in another post, whilst “banal” false memories are widespread, “radical” false memories are much less likely to emerge spontaneously. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the latter are spawned by (conscious or unconscious) psychological manipulation such as the assertion by a person of authority that the event (e.g. getting lost in a mall as a child) happened and that she is in a position to know this.

Bart Ehrman’s argumentation

Bart Ehrman begins by presenting a well-known Dutch study exemplifying the emergence of spontaneous false memories.

On October 4, 1992, an El Al Boeing 707 that had just taken off from Schipfol Airport in Amsterdam lost power in two engines.  The pilot tried to return to the airport but couldn’t make it.  The plane crashed into an eleven-story apartment building in the Amsterdam suburb of Bijlmermeer.   The four crew members and thirty-nine people in the building were killed.   The crash was, understandably, the leading news story in the Netherlands for days.

Ten months later, in August 1993, Dutch psychology professor Hans Crombag and two colleagues gave a survey to 193 university professors, staff, and students in the country.  Among the questions was the following:  “Did you see the television film of the moment the plane hit the apartment building?”    In their responses 107 of those surveyed (55%) said Yes, they had seen the film.   Sometime later the researchers gave a similar survey with the same question to 93 law school students.  In this instance, 62 (66%) of the respondents indicated that they had seen the film.   There was just one problem.  There was no film.

These striking results obviously puzzled the researchers, in part because basic common sense should have told anyone that there could not have been a film.   Remember, this is 1992, before cell phone cameras.   The only way to have a film of the event would have been for a television camera crew to have trained a camera on this particular apartment building in a suburb of Amsterdam at this exact time, in expectation of an imminent crash.   And yet, between half and two-thirds of the people surveyed – most of them graduate students and professors – indicated they had seen the non-existent film.    Why would they think they had seen something that didn’t exist?

Even more puzzling were the detailed answers that some of those interviewed said about what they actually saw on the film, for example, whether the plane crashed into the building horizontally or at vertical and whether the fire caused by the plane started at impact or only later.   None of that information could have been known from a film, because there was no film.  So why did these people remember, not only seeing the crash but also details about how it happened and what happened immediately afterward?

Obviously they were imagining it, based on logical inferences (the fire must have started right away) and on what they had been told by others (the plane crashed into the building as it was heading straight down).  The psychologists argued that these people’s imaginations became so vivid, and were repeated so many times, that they eventually did not realize they were imagining something.  They thought they were remembering it.  They really thought that.   In fact they did remember it.  But it was a false memory.   Not just a false memory one of them had.   A false memory most of them had.

The researchers concluded:  “It is difficult for us to distinguish between what we have actually witnessed, and what common sense inference tells us that must also have been the case.”   In fact, commonsense inference, along with information we get by hearsay from others, together “conspire in distorting an eyewitness’s memory.”   Indeed “this is particularly easy when, as in our studies, the event is of a highly dramatic nature, which almost by necessity evokes strong and detailed visual imagery.”

plane-crash

This was a memory of a large group of people who all remember seeing the same thing (or nearly the same thing) at the same time, even though none of them saw it.  If you don’t want to call that a group vision, that’s absolutely fine with me.  What I’m saying is that a group of people thought they saw something they didn’t see.  (The difference in this example, of course, is that the people in this study were not all standing together at the time when they had the vision – but we have records of that sort of thing happening as well.)

At this point, it is important to realise that what Ehrman describes is not what I would call a “big” false memory of a totally fictional event. The plane crashing into the building and the tragic death of 39 persons certainly did occur. The test subjects’ mistake was their confusion of their imagining the accident (which they certainly did back then over and over again) with their watching a film capturing it. What is more, the false memories did not emerge spontaneously but through the deliberately misleading assertion of the researchers there was such a film.

As I said in my earlier post, I don’t actually think groups of people all at one and the same time saw Jesus after his death, any more than I think groups of people actually see the Blessed Virgin Mary at one time today.  What I think does happen is that someone has a vision (non-veridical – that is, a hallucination or, as one reader of the blog has suggested, possibly an illusion).   He tells someone else who tells someone else (e.g., someone else who was there at the time) who tells someone else, and soon they all remember seeing it.  Only one of them saw it.  But the entire group remembers seeing it.  Vividly remembers it.

Here, I think that Ehrman makes one hell of an extrapolation. The participants in the Dutch study did not remember a supernatural event that did not happen. They mistook their imaginary visualisation of a plane crash with a movie capturing the drama.

As false memory researcher Giuliana Mazzoni pointed out, the emergence of false memories depends on the initial plausibility/probability you attribute to the event.

And merely believing in the reality of a supernatural world does not suffice if you also believe that miracles happen relatively rarely.

Put it yourself to the test

To understand what I mean by that, consider the last time you participated in a party with your friends. Go to them ten months later and tell them:

Do you remember the male exhibitionist who showed us his genitals, disturbed the whole celebration and had to be driven out of the room by the security personal?”

whereas in fact there was no exhibitionist who interrupted the festivities.

How would your friends react to your assertion?

Would they spontaneously say: “Oh yeah, I do remember him! This was crazy!” ?

I bet you 1 million of Euros that virtually none of them would say this.

They wouldn’t even say: “Ah okay! Actually I don’t remember this but it’s  quite possible.

No instead, it’s very likely they would stare at you in utter disbelief and tell you: “Did you take LSD back then?” or perhaps somewhat more politely: “No, that definitely didn’t happen. You must confuse this with another party you took part in“.

Of course, all your friends believe in the existence of exhibitionists.

exhibitionist

The problem is that merely mentioning this to them does not suffice to radically change their reliable memories of the real event and they know they would remember it clearly if something that unusual had truly happened.

At this point, it is important to realise that most experiments about “big” false memories (such as those of getting lost in a mall as a small child) don’t make you radically misremember an event you really experienced but make you remember an event that never happened altogether (most often at an undetermined date).

Application to the sightings of the 500 “brothers”

Suppose that the 500 brothers (and most likely sisters) were gathered in a meadow while listening to a talented preacher. They felt deeply emotionally moved by the words he spoke. 499 of them did not experience anything supernatural and returned to their family’s homes after the end of the event. One person (perhaps with a schizoaffective disorder) sees the resurrected Jesus speaking to the crowd for 15 minutes and sharing bread with them before rising back to the clouds and disappearing.

Now suppose that this person talked to twenty of the brethren two years after the event and told them: “Do you remember that while Brother X. gave us this amazing sermon, the Lord appeared and stayed with us for more than ten minutes?“.

For the same reasons I gave above regarding the exhibitionist interrupting the party, I think it is very unlikely they would answer: “Oh yeah, that was fantastic!” or even “No, but you’re probably right”. Instead, chances are they too would stare at him in disbelief. Or they would consider he was experiencing a private revelation.

When Bart Ehrman writes: “What I think does happen is that someone has a vision (non-veridical – that is, a hallucination or, as one reader of the blog has suggested, possibly an illusion).   He tells someone else who tells someone else (e.g., someone else who was there at the time) who tells someone else, and soon they all remember seeing it.  Only one of them saw it.  But the entire group remembers seeing it.  Vividly remembers it.”

he is going far beyond what the experimental evidence warrants.

Perhaps, ten years later, some people who believed that the person’s hallucination of Jesus was a private revelation mistakenly believed that their own experience of a private revelation happened at the same time. But I consider it very unlikely that all 500 brethren would come to radically misremember the event in this way.

 

Conclusion

I am not perfect and my PhD is in chemical modelling, not cognitive psychology. Nevertheless, based on my knowledge of the appropriate literature, I consider it very unlikely that the hallucination of one person would be enough to convince 499 other ones they experienced this as well at the same time even though they actually didn’t see or hear anything.

The Dutch study quoted by Bart Ehrman is a false analogy as it concerns a source monitoring error about a real event.

To prove me wrong, you would need to show me the positive results of experiments involving a radical false claim similar to the interruption of a (real) party by an exhibitionist who had to be driven out of the room. I strongly doubt this is possible.

That said, it is quite possible that false memories played some role in the emergence of the Christian religion. But there are limits to such explanations.

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Thinking critically about false memories

Introducing false memories

Many of us recognise intuitively that our memories aren’t perfect and that we can not only forget things but also misremember others.

falsememories
False memories?

False memory research is a burgeoning field where scientists systematically study the fallibility and malleability of human memory.

Their findings can be divided into two categories.

  1. Spontaneous false memories

People can naturally mistake the face of an innocent for that of a rapist, confuse road signs seen during an accident, believe that the car collision was more violent if “crashed into” is used rather than “ran into” during the questioning and so on and so forth.

2. “Unnatural” false memories

The most spectacular forms of false memories are doubtlessly people misremembering being victims of satanic ritual or abducted by space aliens.

The genesis of such fictional memories generally follow these steps:

a) The person goes to a therapist with unspecific problems such as depression, overweight or anxiety.

b) The therapist convinces the person that it is likely he or she had a terrible experience she has repressed.

c) The therapist uses suggestive methods (such as hypnosis) to push the person to try to remember what she allegedly went through.

d) The persons gets persuaded she really experienced all these things.

recovered-memory
So-called “recovered memories”

Plenty of experimental studies have shown that manipulative techniques can spawn entirely fictional memories.

For instance, the cognitive psychologist can tell the test subject that his parents reported he was lost in a mall as a child and give him some true details related to his childhood in order that he gets convinced the person conducting the test really knows of his past. Researchers also often tell subjects to remember real past events in order to increase their confidence in the procedure.

And then, they are asked to imagine having experienced the fictional event. The subjects generally don’t remember it at first but after three sessions of suggestive imagination, many of them can form vivid memories of having gone through this.

The same method can even be applied to a fictional criminal action such as assaulting someone with a weapon or being viciously attacked by an animal.

In any case, there appears to be two necessary conditions for the genesis of such “big” false memories.

a) The person believes that the cognitive psychologist or therapist is in a position to know things about their past they don’t remember.

b) Suggestive techniques (whereby the person imagines having experienced these things) are used.

If these two conditions are satisfied, a certain number of test subjects confuse their imagining the false event with their remembering it really happened.

There is one important limitation of these studies which is often missed out on, though.

To the best of my knowledge, such radical false memories (also called “full” false memories” as the event never occurred) almost always come up through (conscious or unconscious) manipulation and not spontaneously.
(An exception might be memories “retrieved” many decades after an event such as being bombarded during World War 2).

In other words, it is statistically highly unlikely that a woman having kissed a man during an evening would remember being raped by him four years later without any manipulation (assuming she wasn’t raped by anyone in between).

And if this happens, you can bet a lot of money she has some serious mental health issues.

Hillary Clinton’s bizarre “false memories”

During the presidential campaign of 2008, Hillary Clinton was harshly criticised after having claimed she landed under sniper fire in Bosnia whereas she actually took part in a peaceful ceremony.

A memory researcher tried to attribute this to false memories.

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It would be a horrible cliché to begin a post about the reconstructive nature of autobiographical memory with a Proust quote, so instead I’ll begin with something only slightly less cliché: beginning something about memory by talking about my own experience. You see, I’m southern, as anyone who’s ever heard me pronounce the words “pen” and “pin” exactly the same, or refer to any soft drink as a “coke,” can attest. In the south, it’s not uncommon to find people sitting around a grill, or a kitchen table, or pretty much anything you can sit around, participating in what might be described as story contests. These are basically pissing contests, but with words instead of, well, other stuff. The contest usually begins with someone telling a crazy story (usually from their youth), which is followed by someone else telling an even crazier story, and so on, back and forth, until someone tells a story so crazy that nothing believable could ever top it. Now, it goes without saying that these contests involve a great deal of, shall we say, creative interpretation of the events being described. And of course, everyone involved is well aware of this. In fact, because the same people often participate in these contests with each other over the years, you can actually watch the stories change: what started as a mildly dangerous activity changes to an extremely dangerous one, then a deadly one, and ultimately, in the “same” story, the story-teller barely cheated Death. The fish you caught became bigger, and the struggle with the one that got away longer and more grueling.

I’ve participated in many of these contests over the years, and generally do pretty well, because I’ve done a lot of stupid things that really did involve an uncomfortable proximity to death, and as anyone who knows me will readily tell you, I have an uncanny ability to hurt myself in bizarre ways (like the time I got a pencil stuck deep between two toes when I tripped on an Afghan blanket). As I’ve told my stories over the years (I have a long list of them ready to be told at a moment’s notice), and… umm… creatively interpreted them to make them more exciting (than the other person’s), I’ve added a detail here, or increased a measurement (by an order of magnitude) there. That’s just the way the game works.

But here’s the thing: in many cases, I don’t remember which parts really happened and which parts I added for effect in the course of one of those contests. This is a simple case of source monitoring failure. I can’t tell whether I’m remembering the event itself or one of the times I told the story of the event. And what’s worse, the vividness of the memory, or how much I can picture it in my head, doesn’t help, because my brain is just as good at coming up with images of things I made up creatively interpreted as it is at coming up with images of things that actually happened. The reason for this, of course that when my brain is remembering something, it’s just putting it together on the fly from bits and associated pieces. And every time I recall an episode, that recall becomes another associated episode, and the memory for the original episode is therefore altered, making it really easily to mistakenly recall things you thought or said about the episode long after it happened as part of the original episode. In other words, memory is just a form of makin’ shit up.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, if you’ve been following politics at all, you’ve no doubt heard about Hillary Clinton’s latest gaffe. In a speech last week, she said this about a trip to Bosnia in 1996:

I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia… we came in in an evasive maneuver… I remember landing under sniper fire… there was no greeting ceremony… we ran with our heads down, we basically were told to run to our cars… there was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, we basically were told to run to our cars, that is what happened.

Sounds harrowing, right? Well, it turns out that it didn’t really happen that way, and there’s video to prove it. It seems there weren’t any snipers, or evasive maneuvers, and instead of running to the cars with their heads down, they had a little ceremony on the tarmac. Oops.

Since it became clear that Clinton’s story wasn’t accurate, bloggers and the mainstream media have been taking her to task, and understandably so. If you’re telling a story that’s supposed to demonstrate your experience with dangerous foreign policy situations, and it turns out the story isn’t really true, you’re going to hear about it. But I think it’s unfair to accuse Clinton of lying. Don’t get me wrong, I think all politicians lie, and I’m no fan of Clinton (I voted for her opponent in my state’s primary), but this appears to be a pretty straightforward failure of memory to me, and I’d bet a lot of money that source monitoring has its dirty little hand in it.

To see why I think this is a memory rather than honesty issue, read the following recollection of the trip by Lissa Muscatine, who was on the plane with Clinton (from here):

I was on the plane with then First Lady Hillary Clinton for the trip from Germany into Bosnia in 1996. We were put on a C17– a plane capable of steep ascents and descents — precisely because we were flying into what was considered a combat zone. We were issued flak jackets for the final leg because of possible sniper fire near Tuzla. As an additional precaution, the First Lady and Chelsea were moved to the armored cockpit for the descent into Tuzla. We were told that a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac might be canceled because of sniper fire in the hills surrounding the air strip. From Tuzla, Hillary flew to two outposts in Bosnia with gunships escorting her helicopter.

Add to that the report by a U.S. general who was there on the ground that they were aware of security threats at the time, and the interference of all the other landings that Clinton made in Europe and elsewhere, plus the fact that Senator Clinton has likely told this story many times (it’s in one of her books), and you’ve got a situation that’s ripe for source monitoring errors.

Let’s look at what might have happened. In Germany, Clinton got on a plane that was used specifically because of its ability to maneuver during landings to avoid incoming fire. Undoubtedly, they were told that this was the reason for using the plane. They had flak jackets and Clinton was put into the armored cockpit for the descent, again as a precaution against incoming fire. Add to this the fact that there were credible threats, meaning she was probably rather anxious, and we all know that stress doesn’t make for better overall memory, even if it makes us remember perceptual details better. Hell, maybe even Clinton and her entourage were rushed, after the meeting on the tarmac, to their cars because they were on a tight schedule (not because of the threats), and you get a situation that’s easily distorted by the reconstructive processes of memory into something like the version that Clinton told. In fact, I’d bet that they even told Clinton or someone on her team that in the case of incoming fire, they would have to be rush to their cars with their heads down, instead of having the scheduled ceremony on the tarmac. All this could easily add up to a memory in which the threat, the fear, the flak jackets, etc., add up to a difficulty in remembering what actually happened and what she was afraid might happened. And the fact that Clinton seems to remember it so vividly, contrary to being evidence that she’s lying, is likely just a product of her brain filling in the gaps and building a coherent representation of the episode, just like it’s supposed to do.

None of this makes Clinton’s version of the events in Bosnia in 1996 more accurate, of course, nor does it excuse her and her campaign from not quickly verifying her memory to make sure she wasn’t misremembering. But it doesn’t mean she’s lying, either, and since she’s clearly a rational and intelligent person, it’s unlikely she’d lie about something that easily verified anyway. Instead, my money’s on a mundane, though potentially costly, error resulting from the reconstructive nature of memory. At least, until someone demonstrates otherwise, I’m willing to give her, and her memory, the benefit of the doubt.

As Montaigne put it, “The memory represents to us not what we choose but what it pleases.” Sorry,I had to end with a cliché too!

********************************************

I think there are many problems which emerge from this account once you start systematically investigating the case.

The chronology of Hillary Clinton’s recounting of the facts

In order to assess the plausibility of any false memories, we must carefully reconstruct the way the story evolved.

detective-work

In this case, it looks like this:

a) In 1996, Clinton went to Bosnia and participated in a peaceful meeting there.

b) In 2003, in her autobiography entitled “Living History”, Clinton stated:

“Security conditions were constantly changing in the former Yugoslavia, and they had recently deteriorated again. Due to reports of snipers in the hills around the airstrip, we were forced to cut short an event on the tarmac with local children, though we did have time to meet them and their teachers and to learn how hard they had worked during the war to continue classes in any safe spot they could find. One eight-year-old girl gave me a copy of a poem she had written entitled ‘Peace.’ “

This story already contains an embellishment as the event was not cut short. But it isn’t far from the truth.

c) December 30, 2007

“We landed in one of those corkscrew landings and ran out because they said there might be sniper fire. I don’t remember anyone offering me tea on the tarmac there.”

Apart from “running out”, this account is remarkably similar to what she wrote in her autobiography. She only spoke of a threat of actual sniper fire in both cases and would certainly have mentioned her real exposure to the danger if she had believed to have experienced that.

d) February 29, 2008

“I remember, particularly, a trip to Bosnia where the welcoming ceremony had to be moved inside because of sniper fire.”

Here, she strongly insinuated that the sniper fire was real rather than a mere potential threat.

e) March 17, 2008

I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

This is her tallest statement about the story. Here she asserts having fled from actual snipers who were shooting at her.

March 25, 2008

“Now let me tell you what I can remember, OK — because what I was told was that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire. So I misspoke — I didn’t say that in my book or other times but if I said something that made it seem as though there was actual fire — that’s not what I was told. I was told we had to land a certain way, we had to have our bulletproof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fire. I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac but that there was this 8-year-old girl and, I can’t, I can’t rush by her, I’ve got to at least greet her — so I greeted her, I took her stuff and then I left, now that’s my memory of it.”

Revealingly, Clinton did NOT tell: “my most recent memories of the event diverged from what actually happened“.

Instead, she said she was aware all along she wasn’t being shot at by real snipers and tried to put the controversy behind her by saying she “misspoke”.

April 16, 2008

Well Tom I might told you, I may be a lot of things, but I am not dumb…and I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it out there. And you’re right…on a couple of occasions in the last weeks, I just said things that weren’t in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I’ve written about in my book and you know, I am embarrassed by it, I have apologised for it, I’ve said it was a mistake and it is I hope something you can look over.

Evaluation

It is highly dubious that Hillary wouldn’t lie if something can be easily verified. For instance, she denied having changed her mind on gay marriage even though it could be clearly seen she was against it before.

feature-2013-03-hillaryclinton

Whilst Hilary Clinton did speak of having a different memory of the event in Bosnia, she always emphasised after the scandal that she was well aware she didn’t face actual snipers.

It seems unlikely she would have lied about this if she indeed mistakenly and innocently thought it had been the case.

It is also extremely improbable she would come to erroneously believe she faced real snipers within only four months without her memory being manipulated.

For all these reasons, it is very implausible that Hillary Clinton misremembered landing under sniper fire, even though she might have been honestly mistaken about other aspects of her recollection.

Conclusion

Scientists working on false memories have done a very good job by showing the unreliability of alleged “recovered memories” of being abused and by demonstrating that eye witnesses can be wrong about important details related to a criminal case. I don’t want to criticise the value of their research and investigations.

Nevertheless, they haven’t, in my opinion, shown that “human memory is totally unreliable” in that people can spontaneously remember a totally fictional event such as being shot at (except, perhaps, many decades after a traumatic war).

Before being considered genuine cases of false memories, incidents such as Hillary Clinton’s gaffe need to be carefully examined in order to assess the plausibility of false memories having caused them. Alternative explanations (such as that of a megalomaniac lie) need to be carefully ruled out.

It is worth mentioning a similar story.

Newsman Brian William came under heavy criticism after having said the helicopter he was in was hit during the war on Iraq whereas it was actually a helicopter flying 30 minutes ahead of him which had been the victim of the attack.

Bildergebnis für brian williams helicopter

Many specialists have jumped to the conclusion this MUST have been a false memory.

Unfortunately, they failed to critically consider the context. Brian Williams had already strongly embellished the story only one month after the event, he has a stark tendency to aggrandise his role (as can be seen in other cases) and he himself recognised that

This came clearly from a bad urge inside me. This was clearly ego-driven, a desire to better my role in a story I was already in. That’s what I’ve been tearing apart, unpacking and analyzing.”

In his case, mythomania seems a (much) better explanation than the type of false memories found in the general population.

Of practical importance to all of us is the amount of trust we should put in our own memories. I remember the following incident. As I was a teenager, I used to hang out with a guy deeply involved in cannabis traffic. One day, he was tricked by another drug dealer. To avenge himself, he wrote a graffiti insulting that person. Several days later, as my friend and I were sitting in a former washhouse in his village, the other drug dealer showed up along with three or four accomplices. They were armed with heavy baseball bats. I remember laughing out of nervousness. My friend apologised and the men departed. He later rebuked me for having laughed as this might have led them to strike us down or hurt us badly.

Is it possible I dreamed up the whole thing? Yes.

Is it likely? Absolutely not.

I didn’t remember that after a “recovery therapy” or a psychological experiment. Therefore, I feel very confident that the things I mentioned truly occurred, even though I might be mistaken about details (such as the faces and number of the assailants).

Based on both common sense and our current knowledge of memory, I believe this is a rational and healthy way of considering our past.

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