You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

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AshvinP
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You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

Post by AshvinP »

This paper came to my inbox a few days ago and could not possibly be more timely. I am just pasting some excerpts from the Introduction and first section here which may interest people to read further. The full paper is about 25 pages and well worth the time to read.

https://www.academia.edu/keypass/RWRVST ... card=title
INTRODUCTION

"Memory is vulnerable, easily distorted to fit beliefs and modes of action that are more expedient than accurate. When the process of remembering becomes collective, such distortion may be greatly increased. Collective memories are acquired and transmitted in a social context, and are therefore the modifiable property of many people (De La Ronde & Swann, 1998; Hardin & Higgins, 1996; Rosenthal & Rubin, 1978; Snyder, 1974). The tendency towards social modification, which can serve positively to unite the members of a group, has a very negative, dangerous, underground aspect. Individuals appear somewhat constrained in their willingness to inflict destruction (or at least in the power to do so). Groups of individuals are not. The dangers of self-deception about past events, far from trivial in the personal case, are tremendously magnified in the social arena. The careless use of memory can lead directly to the grave abuse of people.
...
Complete and accurate historical accounting might contribute to genuine reconciliation between individuals and groups previously or presently in conflict, at least in principle, and help to prevent outbreaks of future violence. But several obstacles, philosophical and practical, stand in the way of such completeness and accuracy. The only truly comprehensive representation of an event is the event itself. Any memory of an event must be, by contrast, incomplete, motivated and reconstructed. In consequence, there appears to be a fundamental conflict between the twin aims of coherence or comprehensibility of representation and correspondence with reality in memory construction. This conflict exists because of the necessarily paradoxical relationship that obtains between the tremendous complexity of remembered events, and the inevitably filtered and narrowed viewpoint of the limited individual observer. The very idea of historical truth has therefore has become subject to serious questioning.

Furthermore, even if the existence of some transcendent and absolute historical truth is granted, provisionally, it is still very difficult, practically, to set up the circumstances so that the truth can be discovered – so that all the participants in a given cultural or historical circumstance have the opportunity to tell their particular stories, and to have them incorporated into some coherent and accurate representation of the past. It therefore becomes a simple matter to deem all the participants in a given conflict as equally right, pursuing their own equally valid historically-determined visions of reality and justice. Since the Nuremberg trials, however, civilized societies have adopted the idea that certain modes of behavior are wrong – axiomatically wrong. This means that individuals and groups do not all necessarily stand equidistant from the truth, although they still retain some unspecified but implicit right to their own idiosyncratic views of a given event. So how might truth be conceptualized, in some manner useful to a discussion of truth and justice, given the troublesome problem of historical veridicality, the necessarily motivated stance of the observer, and the absolute impossibility of full “objective” representation?
...

THE FRAME AND THE PICTURE: WHO CALLS THE SHOTS, AND WHY?

Every account of any event inevitably utilizes only a tiny fraction of the information that originally comprised that event. Even a video camera must have an operator – must have a motivated, active director who calls the shots. Calling the shots, in a particular situation, means continual determination of what processes and objects will be included in the record, and what elements will be ignored. “What to ignore” is precisely the most complex of cognitive problems, in the real world, since almost everything has to be ignored. This problem of “relevant object” and “irrelevant background” – and the problem of the biases any solution necessarily introduces – could apparently be solved by random sampling of the “environment” that is to undergo representation. However, the immense database that comprises the real world is so vast that a sample of appropriate representativeness would still be far too large to be manageable. How do you sample appropriately from a population of infinite size? Practically, therefore, randomness is of less than no value. Anyone who has switched a video-tape recorder on accidentally during a family event, for example, soon learns that the snippets of unfocused scenery and fragmented dialog thus registered manage to be simultaneously uninformative, uninteresting, incomplete, and incoherent.

The human solution to the problem of sampling is motivation. We are always engaged with the environment – are always “being-in-the-world” – and are never dispassionate observers. We are always pursuing the limited goals we construe as valuable, from our particular idiosyncratic perspectives. We pay attention to, and remember, those events we construe as relevant, with regards to those goals. We do not and cannot strive for comprehensive, “objective” coverage. This process of motivated engagement allows us to extract out and remember a world of productive predictability from the ongoing complex chaos of being."
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
Simon Adams
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

Post by Simon Adams »

I find it interesting that people have such different views on this. It’s a case where the the two extreme views are wrong, and I think that applies to history as well as legal cases etc. On one side you have the ‘scientific’ version of history where there is just one objective correct account, and on the other the postmodernist view that nothing is true, and any version of history is valid at some level.

In reality, there will of course be different human perspectives, none of which are 100% complete. There are nonetheless correct facts and incorrect facts, and depending on how much information and evidence is available, someone with the right skills and knowledge can create a credible narrative which takes account of the veracity and influences on the sources.

A good historian would be suspicious if all the witness accounts are exactly the same (as would a good judge in the court room). But this doesn’t mean that there are no truths than can be established from the accounts and the evidence...
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
St Augustine
Simon Adams
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

Post by Simon Adams »

PS: Having read the whole article I think I'm basically agreeing with Peterson, in a very simplistic way :)
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
St Augustine
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AshvinP
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

Post by AshvinP »

Simon, I'm glad you made it all the way through!
Simon wrote:A good historian would be suspicious if all the witness accounts are exactly the same (as would a good judge in the court room). But this doesn’t mean that there are no truths than can be established from the accounts and the evidence...
Yes, agreed. The extreme 'post-modern' position ignores pragmatism, i.e. even if no perspectives can be rationally proclaimed as superior representations of objective Truth, some perspectives will work better than others to advance being-in-the-world. And who is to say those which work are not also aligned with Truth?
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
Simon Adams
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

Post by Simon Adams »

Yes made it through whilst switching between my work laptop and working out some of the complexities of the forum setup :)

My trouble is when people say, for example, that the Holocaust didn't happen. They can get together all kinds of "evidence" and witness statements supporting a narrative, but that ignores the testaments of thousands of people, the verified Nazi documents detailing what happened in the death camps etc.
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
St Augustine
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AshvinP
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

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Simon wrote:My trouble is when people say, for example, that the Holocaust didn't happen. They can get together all kinds of "evidence" and witness statements supporting a narrative, but that ignores the testaments of thousands of people, the verified Nazi documents detailing what happened in the death camps etc.
Yeah, that's a real nasty one. It makes sense why they would try to undermine it because that was the whole basis for the Nuremberg trials and the concept that "crimes against humanity" are recognized and will be punished. Anti-Semitism is still a huge problem in the world. While Twitter bans the US President's twitter account, they leave up the Ayatollah's account and tweets promising to eradicate Israel from the face of the map... :roll: but I digress...

At the crux of Peterson's paper for me was that the 'memory making' process needs to be embraced by individuals rather than left in the hands of collectives with dubious ideological motivations. We need a return to the bottom-up myth-making approach that will naturally produce communities with shared values and memories. Judging by the way things are developing in the biggest and most powerful countries right now, I'd say we need that transition to happen rather quickly.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
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AshvinP
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

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I was just thinking, the movie Memento is a perfect artistic representation of this process:
Peterson and Djikic wrote:Ziva Kunda (1990) has proposed, similarly, that individuals posit “truths” they find particularly desirable, but only if they can muster up evidence that “supports” those truths. People who are motivated to draw a particular conclusion attempt to be rational, at least post-hoc, and are therefore driven to construct a justification of their conclusion that might persuade a “dispassionate observer.” This means that people draw upon memories for facts and experiences that might support their desired conclusion, and that they “creatively combine” aspects of what they already know to develop new and supportive evidence. She reviews evidence suggesting that this process is far from objective, as individuals fail to realize (1) that their conclusions are biased by their goals, (2) that a small and delimited subset of their personal knowledge is being pulled into play, (3) that alternative goals might draw out different aspects of memory, and (4) that completely different or even opposing conclusions might be accepted under alternative circumstances.
[SPOILER BELOW]
It explores the above through a character who has lost ability to create new memories and becomes ultra-rationalistic. Without the memories, he feels that his life is only governed by 'hard facts'. He is seeking vengeance for his wife's murder. When asked about it at one point, he says something along the lines of, 'my wife deserves vengeance even if I won't remember she got it... the world doesn't just go away when you close your eyes, does it?'.

Yet we find out that, at some point after searching in vain with no new memories and only cold rationality, becoming increasingly more empty and hopeless inside, he decides that he must invent new meaning for his life by selecting his target at the outset, picking out certain 'facts' which point towards that target, and then 'solving the mystery' by following the clues, or rather, cues.

When the overall [unconscious] goal is vengeance, or anything that attempts to rationally 'vindicate' or move beyond a lost or abandoned ideal (such as a lost love, like 'God'), we will frame reality through our thoughts and "memories" to only point us towards what dark ends we are seeking. Our emotions will also come along for the ride. That is rationalism cashed out to its inevitable conclusion.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
Simon Adams
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

Post by Simon Adams »

Yes this is definitely a factor that shapes history, politics etc, often with people not being conscious of it.

Not directly relevant, but Bismarck’s autobiography has been shown to be written as if he planned/intended things that were in reality him responding to events. It’s difficult to know how much he was conscious of this (versus cynically making himself look good), but we are all to some extent narrative/story creators. There are people of all types who think they are specially free from such things (because they are a scientist, because they have read xxx, etc etc), but whatever each of us think, it’s probably almost superhuman to be fully self aware of these things.
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
St Augustine
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AshvinP
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Re: You Can Neither Remember Nor Forget What You Don't Understand

Post by AshvinP »

When 9/11 occurred, I was sitting in my high school Spanish class. I remember everyone being stunned in silence for a few minutes before the teacher dismissed class. The next day, in my history class, a good ol' southern boy sitting in front of me raised his hand to make a comment, turned to me and said "I don't know if you are Arab or whatever, so no offense, but I think your entire country should be nuked and turned into glass". That moment is seared into my memory.

I remember being extremely ashamed, embarrassed and angry, but looking back I know he was just parroting something he heard at home or on the news. We will start hearing comparisons from politicians and pundits between 9/11 and 1/6 soon, and that really concerns me to say the least. These people are igniting fuses in the mythic substratum of our culture which cannot be defused. We must be vigilant in guarding against the collective memories they are furiously trying to implant.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
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