27 Jun 1996 22:58

Memories can't wait
"Mnemotechnics," i.e. techniques for improving your memory, such as the medieval "memory palace," where you associated the things you wanted to remember with locations in an imaginary building. (Cf. homepages.) Doubtless there were others --- after all, people memorized Homer!

People's recollections can be altered by the way you phrase questions about the past. In one experiment, people were shown a videotape of a car hitting a stop sign. Those who were asked how fast was the car going when it "smashed" into the sign estimated significantly higher speeds than those asked how fast it was going when it "hit" the sign. Recollections of colors, etc., can also be altered by phrasing questions appropriately. (From my lecture notes to Cognitive Science 1.) In a similar vein, consider the by-now-notorious fabulations passing for "hypnotically recovered memories". (I forget who it was that pointed out that hypnotists who believe in reincarnation never get the UFO abductees or Satanically abused, and vice versa.) Clearly episodic memories are often "reconstructions"; what about other sorts of memories? What is the neurology behind such a (apparently maladaptive) feature of the mind?