Monday, January 11, 2010

Memory and perception

I recently read an interesting article about false memories. It seems that most people, if confronted with a made-up photo DO recall the event which would have been depicted in it. In the experiment, the event was a hot air balloon trip and I am surprised by how little we are sure about –if we can end up being persuaded we have actually lived such an extraordinary experience although we did not. This has important consequences on juridical matters, showing that it is useless (and may lead to distorsions), to urge witness to remember or to rember more clearly what they might have unconsciously seen. Vedānta Deśika makes a similar point in his Seśvaramīmāṃsā on 1.1.4:

[Obj.:] What about the fact that the very topmost level of visualisation (bhāvanā) makes [things] perceptible? [S:] This is not true. Out of visualisation it is not perception which arises, but rather only clearness of memory. In fact, the accumulation of mnestic traces (saṃskāra) supplies sharpness to memory. Even when, for instance, a love-sick meets his beloved one, nothing exceeding what has already been known appears. And the exceeding element appearing in “And on every tree I see a cloth (ambara) consisting in the skin of an antelope (kṛṣṇājina) and a garment (cīra), similar to Rāma with his arch, holding a noose in hand, the destroyer” and similar [verses], this is not directly perceivable, since it appears in a different way. What [is directly perceivable] is, instead, its external look.


VS said...

It would be interesting to know the exact percentage of people who recalled the event depicted in the photo. Did it have something to do with age or mental status?

elisa freschi said...

Very interesting question, VS, and I am sure you must be right. Still, the experiment took place among students of the same university (probably exactly in order to show that false memories can occur even among cultivated –and technologically aware– young people), so, I expect no significant difference of age or mental status. I will check the percentage and let you know.

elisa freschi said...

30% could partly recall the hot-air balloon journey. 20% could recall it with many details (such as the occasion, the sensations involved etc.).
False memories are, moreover, strikingly increased by the use of falsified photos. It seems like we cannot resist the appeal of sense-perception against our other instrument of knowledge (such as memory or inference).

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