This video was originally at the bottom of this post. But I think it’s too good to be missed and I’m ok if you watch it and don’t read the article. As long as you see fantastic and timeless simplistic explanation of scientific method by Richard Feynman.
“Definition: a plausible but imagined memory that fills in gaps in what is remembered” – http://www.memidex.com/confabulation+psychiatry
Note: This post is in a way a part 2 from Dragons and Deceit – The Memory Paradox If you are unfamiliar with the ways memory fools you into mis-remembering, check it out. It greatly compliments this post.
Mindfulness of Memory
When we are trying to figure out if someone is being truthful with us while telling us a story, we are usually looking for signs of conscious lying. Signs that someone is trying to sneak one by us. This is very ineffective when most lies in the form of stories are told unconsciously even to the story teller themselves. They believe they are giving the most accurate first hand account of what actually happened.
Naturally we all want to come across to others as consistent and trustworthy human beings. And this is how we got into this unconscious mess of confabulation in the first place.
To really begin to be mindful of our memory and it’s limits we need to view our memory as just a reflection of our personal ego. Any details unknown to you, (which are most in the case of anything over a month old) are going to be filled with your current beliefs you have. Someone mindful of their memory never consciously gives into thoughts of “what it must have been like.” This thought process leads to recreating faulty memories based on logical conclusions drawn from current values and beliefs instead of feelings held at the time the memory was recorded.
Copied from Dragons and Deceit “A study done by Dr. Daniel Offer interviewed a group of adolescence on many topics to gather a detailed snap shot of what their life was like. Questions ranging from family views to religious views. The study participants were brought in for a second round of questioning, again on the exact same questions. This was done when they were now adjusted late middle-aged individuals. To their surprise “The data showed that there is essentially no correlation between what the subjects as adults thought and felt about their adolescence and what they actually thought and felt when they were adolescents.” The study participants memory of those times were guesses at for the most part. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Offer#Adolescent_psychiatry “
The faultiness and unreliability of memory has always been the case. It must have been something language enhanced prehistoric man felt about others but due to their self serving historian inside them, their unconscious was rewriting history to make them feel consistent.1 The turning point for awaking mindfulness would have been when we started to write things down. Commitment to permanent unchanging accounts of events and revisiting them to realize they were far from what we could recall in memory.
Science is Born!
Although we have a natural unconscious tendency to distort reality without even knowing it, we also have this very conscious desire for the truth and consistency. In realization that we all have this self serving historian fighting against us, we developed science as the solution. A method that allows us to filter out all the noise and find the true nature of things. To consider truth only in things that we can test and retest to produce the same results. To consider unproven and un-tested ideas only to be a hypothesis or educated guesses.
From writing things down we were able to find out our memory’s fatal flaw or blind spots. Through the scientific method we were able to develop an unbiased system of documenting the true nature of reality. Science produced progress by providing for the first time ever, a guideline in which everyone could look at the world through the same lens and bypass their self serving historian from distorting reality constantly in their favour. I would argue that the scientific method is the only true universal language that people can speak and come to understand each other through.
Just Write it Down!
Now you might be telling yourself that you don’t have time for science and I think that is a fair statement in some respects. However, you can write things down and keeping a journal is easy enough. Just keeping a journal as reference is something that can protect you from yourself and make you a more consistent, self aware and mindful person. By revisiting and reviewing your journal you can also get feedback for the limits of your memory and become better at knowing when to trust and when not to trust it. The benefits of a simple daily journal can not be overstated when it comes to improving yourself.
Flannery O’Connor American Author and Essayist knew the power of writing things down very well:
“I write to discover what I know.”
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
― Flannery O’Connor
If we want more truth in our lives we should keep a journal and revisit it. This is how we are able to see what we actually know. Without figuring out your current location in terms of what you know, it is going to be hard to figure out how to get anywhere in life. It’s like being out to sea and not knowing where shore is.2 You can paddle as hard as you like but it’s a crap shoot on weather or not you will get to your destination. A journal will give you a snap shot over time of how your views are evolving and you can make adjustments to head another direction or ensure you keep the path if things are going well.
If we don’t journal our self serving historian will continue to control our direction. He or she will be filling in the gaps with whatever we believe to be true instead of what actually is true. If you have high self esteem your historian might write you in for more than your share and if you have low self esteem you may think you are hopeless and cutting yourself short. The only way to know for sure is to put in a system to keep that historian in check. A system that gives you unbiased data to work with.
The journal will also help you learn to stomach the truth that you are a work in progress with ever changing views and beliefs. Truthful information from your journal can and should change your mind even if it makes you appear inconsistent. There is nothing wrong with being wrong, unless you know better and don’t alter course. Journaling will actually make you a better scientist if you review the data and adjust your course accordingly when facing the facts.
What Gets Measured, Gets Managed
What we do not measure will get lost in the noise of our inconsistent memory. Nothing will change if we are living comfortably and creating no frame of reference for improvement. If we want to improve something, find a way to measure it and record it. Make a hypothesis, execute the hypothesis and record the results. Review the results, adjust accordingly and repeat. Life is that easy.
For more information on the negative impact of our comfortable living, check out my post Habit Hacking – A Deep Dive on Habit Formation
For more information finding success, check out my post Reframing Success – A Definition of Success, Build for Success
Here is a recap and list of the ways to fight off the self serving historian, to mend the gaps in your memory and to be an overall more truthful and effective person in life:
- Journal and revisit your records to discover and overcome your blind spots. #JustJournal 🙂
- Test and know the limits of your memory.
- Record and measure what you want to manage or improve at.
- Know and be ok with your views and beliefs constantly updating.
- Don’t be afraid to evolve personal views and beliefs even if it’s inconsistent with your past identity. (Or what people might be expecting from you.)
- Make hypothesizes and test your assumptions.
Lastly I will leave you with this very inspiring talk from physicist Richard Feynman. Here he is explaining the scientific and unscientific methods of understanding nature. It is rather fantastic and timeless! (Moved to top of post.)
Click for References:
- If you enjoyed this article you would really enjoy reading Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris
- Borrowed analogy from Orrin Wordward talk, unsure which. (Will update if someone can let me know here.)