Memories, mistakes, and scientific evidence in the courtroom


I’ve been following her work for a few years now, and it has influenced how I view the world and the way I think about my own memory and experiences.

The importance of her work is capital and has consequences in multiple fields of science as well as in philosophy.

If, as many maintain, we are the sum of our experiences, how much of that sum is taken from actual experiences and how much from false or fabricated memories?

Conclusions regarding memory have such far-reaching consequences for everything from science to the humanities, as well as for everyday life that it seems that great care should be taken in this area. I would prefer in general for this debate to simply continue and not collapse to any one dominant position,. I do wonder why memories labelled as ‘repressed’ should be treated any differently from any other potential memory. If repressed memories as treated as automatically suspect due to their ‘origin’, then it seems that memory itself should be under assault as well. That memories are subject to modification is no secret, and surely this is not limited to repressed memories. Interpretation is always going to be involved in memory formation and retrieval. This raises the question, how much of anyone’s memory is ‘true’, and what if anything can determine the ‘truth’ of that memory. Extrapolating from that, how much of public consensual knowledge can be regarded as truth, and how is that truth being mediated in group settings? The implication of course is that group memory is no more reliable than individual memory, There are so many ‘landmines’, philosophical, scientific, logical in this area, that any definative position seems unlikely. Under these circumstances it seems more useful to look at the institutional framings of the issue instead.

If you start Googling the articles and cases mentioned in the profiles, you quickly realize that Loftus is a fraud. Her Lost in The Mall study had flagrant flaws that suggest manipulation (link - warning: PDF) and doesn’t appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the results have not been duplicated independently. There are in fact many cases of recovered memories that were corroborated by the perpetrators themselves or by other witnesses (link). A victim’s point-by-point rebuttal of an opinion article ( strongly suggests that Loftus has lied outright in her writings (that many inaccuracies simply cannot be accidental).

I have a neurological problem that (in fancy terms) interferes sporadically with the transfer of memory from working memory to long term memory. Or to put it another way, when I try to save things from RAM to disk sometimes it just goes poof, and sometimes I only get parts of it. It’s a daily reminder that memory is fallible - mine more so than most, but just because I have the errors regularly doesn’t mean “normal” people never get them.
My “knowledge” is pretty darn good, but I have no idea where I get it. As far as being the sum of my memories… well if that’s the case, I’m sort of a sketch, not a person. But memory and knowledge are different things, and I think many parts of “experiences” get filed under “knowledge” rather than “memory” (at least if my brain is normal in that…)

But when it comes down to an exact question of “what happened” and “who said what”… having a problem has made me consciously aware of how sketchy my mind is. It would be good if more people were really aware that our meat-bag brains aren’t perfect, but I don’t really know how anything would get done if we were constantly questioning things.

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