More on Sins (of Memory, That Is)

 Posted by on 8 July 2002 at 2:00 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 082002

I am always pleased when merely reading the opening pages of a book conveys a clear sense of the insights and delights to come. I had exactly that experience in reading the introduction to David Kelley’s Truth and Toleration. His tone was so reasonable and his writing was so clear that I was almost certain that I would agree with the substance of his arguments. I was not wrong.

I am currently enjoying a very similar impressing in the opening pages of Daniel Schacter’s book The Seven Sins of Memory. Interested in why and how memory fails us, he has divided up the errors of memory into seven basic categories:

  • Transience: “the weakening or loss of memory over time” (4)
  • Absent-mindedness: a failure of recall due to the fact that the information is “either never registered in memory to begin with, or not sought after at the moment it is needed, because attention is focused elsewhere” (4)
  • Blocking: “a thwarted search for information that we may be desperately trying to retrieve” (5)
  • Misattribution: the “assigning [of] a memory to the wrong source” (5)
  • Suggestibility: the implanting of memories due to “leading questions, comments, or suggestions when a person is trying to call up a past experience” (5)
  • Bias: a change in recollections due to “the powerful influences of our current knowledge and beliefs on how we remember our past” (5)
  • Persistence: the “repeated recall of disturbing information or events that we would prefer to banish from our minds altogether” (5)

These sins of memory, however, are not ammunition in a simplistic attack on memory, but rather consequences of “otherwise desirable and adaptive features of the human mind” (6).

But it is not merely the prospect of the content of the book that has me all warm and fuzzy inside, but rather the promise held out by his engaging and clear writing. His style of writing is friendly and accessible, without being condescending. So far, it is popular science writing at its best.

Of course, my predictions could be entirely wrong. I am no Miss Cleo! :-) But if the reviews on Amazon are any indication, my initial impressions will likely last. So off to read I go!

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