Memory is identity. It is our only window into the past, the most reliable evidence we have that life didn’t just start a moment. ago with everything in it’s present state. We use it to organise our lives, to distinguish friend from foe, even to convinct criminals.
Yet memory isn’t as reliable as we’d like to believe. In this article, Julia Shaw talks about memory hacking; the ability to convince people that they did things that never happened:
You try to get someone to confuse their imagination with their memory. That’s it: Get them to repeatedly picture it happening.”
For example, in a recent stud, she informed participants that they highs committed a crime when they were 14 years old, and that she was going to help them retrieve the memory. Using information she gathered from the subject’s parents and friends, she constructed a plausible, detailed story of the crime (a petty theft), and over the course of a few weeks, or sometimes less, the participants would come to believe it.
So how can we spot a false memory? Well, here’s the bad news. According to Shaw, all of our memories are false:
“I like to say that all memories are essentially false. They’re either a little bit false, or entirely false. There are entire experiences that never happened.”