Opinion: The memory mess
Early on in counseling, I learned tears and passion don’t equate to truth.
Dr. Julia Shaw, a memory expert and researcher at London South Bank University, supports this. “Much like our ability to switch the name John with Jack without realizing,” she writes, “we can quite easily change details of more important events in our memories without noticing. We can come to remember seeing and doing things that never happened, and the sneaky part is that in our minds these errors look and feel just like our other memories.”
This gets even scarier!
During a research project, Shaw writes, “Through a series of three interviews, my participants came to believe they experienced a highly emotional event that never happened.”
She goes on in her research to share that this is accidentally done all the time in highly emotional questioning situations, like police interviews or counseling sessions. Yep, you read that right. Bad counselors can actually make your events more traumatic and less real. Every time you recreate the event, the mind can literally paint a more superfluous image. Your ex grows ever more into a monster. Your childhood flame becomes Cinderella. You mix real events with emotions and retell the story over and over again until a new “real” memory is formed.
Dr. Shaw’s research led me to three conclusions:
1. The best way to probe a memory is to just listen. Don’t over-ask or “seed” memories.
2. If possible, corroboration is absolutely much better. It’s best to compare stories like a good policeman asking each witness separately and drawing core conclusions off of the similarities.
3. Only looking within to find the real truth is objectively and scientifically a flawed idea.
This “new” research is eerily consistent with a document over 2,500 years old. The famous Jeremiah poetically depicts the flaws of the human mind and heart and its inability to know what is really real. For thousands of years, woven through literature, we see humanity has instinctively known what we can objectively prove today. We need an external compass. This is why so many are interested in religion — specifically, in a personal God. It’s the longing for a compass. To people who truly believe, faith isn’t just a gate to eternity; it is a sentient compass for today. Not something, but someone that brings deep personal meaning and purpose. Find a list of sources and more on this at www.luke117.com.