Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Reliability or Unreliability of Our Always-Constructed Memories


It is generally believed -- and I believe -- that the mind does not work like a tape recorder and that memories are "constructed."

Does it follow that all memories -- which are constructed, or assembled, by the mind -- are unreliable?

No: that proposition does not logically follow. It is possible that some constructed memories -- i.e., some mental or neural inferential processes -- are reliable.
  • Anecdote: I am quite sure I correctly remember what my sister looks like. The same holds true for my memory of upstairs neighbors, my daughter, etc.
If our memories were systematically "unreliable," most people would get lost on their way to work, on their way home, etc. We generally remember many things correctly.

Of course, some memories -- e.g., very old ones, our memories of people seen only once, etc. -- are very probably substantially less trustworthy than many other memories.
  • Even here, caution must be exercised. For example, unconscious recall may (sometimes) be more reliable than conscious recall.

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