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Thread: The role of false memories

  1. #1
    Member Aurast's Avatar
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    Dec 2013
    Austin, TX

    The role of false memories

    Do they have one?

    I'm a pretty heavy dreamer. Fairly often I'll remember something, but not whether it happened in a dream or in reality. Sometimes I can't figure it out no matter how hard I try. Other times I'll wake up holding a preposterous belief until I talk myself out of it, which can take more than a minute.

    Could it be that the purpose of episodic memory is not necessarily to record the past, but just to serve as an experience bank to draw upon? Throughout biological history, it doesn't seem like the factual accuracy of episodic memory would matter that much. Maybe it could even be a detriment. If a memory can't be bent into new shapes, then perhaps it isn't as useful in modulating future behavior in similar but different situations. And maybe that's what false memories are for, adapting the lessons of experience to different circumstances.

    We know that humans are biological capable of virtually perfect episodic memory, it's called Hyperthymesia or "highly superior autobiographical memory", a very rare condition. Why don't we all have it? Apparently having it can drive you nuts, but that seems like a kink evolution could work out if it wanted to go in that direction. Maybe it's as simple as not being worth the extra energy consumption. But maybe it's because it prevents the insertion of useful bullshit memories.

    To me it's interesting to think that there's no inherent reason to value true memories over false ones.

  2. #2
    Meae Musae Servus Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Dec 2013
    Ceti Alpha V
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    I'm not sure "false memories" is the correct term, but I think it's a lesser included term in what you're talking about. Or maybe it's perfectly accurate. Depends on how I squint.

    One of the most terrifying things I've read is that when we remember something, we do two things:

    1. We annihilate the memory as part of recall.

    2. We re-write the memory.

    It's sort of like if you read a book by burning each page as you copied it. But with indexing, which I think is the reason that process is valuable. As you allude, we can alter our perspective on our memories, which is a really neat trick when you think about how much data is encoded in memories. Specifically, that memories include some echo of the perspective and emotions you had and felt at the moment the events were happening. Being able to change our feelings and perspective on a memory is enormous once you consider the result of not being able to do that. But combined with the aforementioned observations, is also scary and makes memories increasingly untrustworthy as factual witnesses, while being much more useful as training data.

    In machine learning, one of the pitfalls is overtraining. Too large a data set is not only cumbersome, but it can lead to errors, especially as you acquire erroneous training data. Being able to correct memories in that regard is useful, even if it means you can't trust details in memories because they might have been polished to inaccuracy.

    Another feature though, is the ability to reindex and make new hippocampus connections using old memories. The most obvious advantage is the ability to link past with present, but it also allows us to link past events with past events, or even more curiously, imaginary ones.

    It's strange enough we can observe ourselves thinking, but our ability to remember imagining things is just
    Most of time, when people ask why something terrible happened, they don't realize they are looking for someone to blame.

    --Meditations on Uncertainty Vol ξ(x)

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