||Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct
|| Daniel L. Schacter
|| Harvard University Press, ©1995
Harvard University Press
9 Garden St.
Cambridge, MA 02138-9983
The broad ranging intellectual sweep of this book is evident in the
title. Its depth is shown in the fascinating story of how parallel
distributing processing was developed. This concept is persuasively
advanced in the book as explaining at least partially how the brain
works when memory is distorted. The computer complex that controlled the
first soft landing on the moon used parallel distributing computational
techniques. The equations that are the foundation for parallel
distributing were developed by a Ukrainian émigré, Oresa Bedrij, IBM's
technical director at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To discover the
equation for parallel processing he prayed and fasted for long periods
of time. He made no effort to generate equations but sat motionless
facing a blank wall where the equations eventually appeared. These
equations became the foundation for the landing on the moon, surely in
our time the most amazing demonstration of the power of science. The
wonder of human capacity is what undergirds this book.
In 416 pages and six parts, the editor has brought together material
that sweeps across the phenomenon of memory distortion from the
neurological changes in brain chemicals, shifts in brain structures, to
complex neural networks, to the impact of misinformation, coercion, and
suggestion, developmental psychology, social contextual reconstruction,
collective memory distortion in ancient Egyptians and contemporary
students of Watergate, and the nature of science. The book is an
intellectual tour de force, which might be expected from a Harvard
University working group on Mind, Brain, and Behavior. The book is an
attempt to reflect the kind of discussion going on between 25 Harvard
professors who meet every six weeks to talk about the mind, the brain,
and human behavior. If this book is typical of the discussions, for the
first time in my life, I have a nagging wish to have been at Harvard
rather than in the Midwest. The vision of the editor clearly is the root
of this engaging structure of progressing from attending to the details
of a weakness, memory distortion, to a celebration of human abilities.
Part I includes chapters demonstrating how the research on cognitive
factors such as memory encoding, storage, and retrieval are affected by
misinformation, suggestions, and the complexity of neurons. Loftus and
her colleagues summarize the ways in which misinformation can alter and
distort memory. The chapter by Ceci also includes research showing that
experts cannot reliably discern between accurate and distorted memories.
Part II brings together chapters showing how hypnosis, emotional states,
arousal level, and psychopathology are involved in memory distortions.
Parts III and IV review the neurological factors that may be linked to
distortion of memory and result in reduced accuracy. These chapters are
written in a style that permits a non-neurologist to understand what
they are saying. This makes it a valuable section for professionals who
have an interest in knowing more about the neurological factors but
can't go back to graduate school. Part V contains two chapters setting
forth the way in which entire cultures can collectively distort memory
and develop inaccurate memories for events that did not happen. The
final section, Part VI, attempts a unifying overview of the simple
reality the book sets forth so engagingly human memory is malleable,
fallible, and readily distorted. The incredible truth, however, is that
it is also reliable enough to permit human beings to negotiate
relatively successfully the world in which we exist and live.
This book is best read at one sitting in order to get the most out of
it. It is an opportunity to build not only a growing sense of our
humanity but a marvelous experience of the wonder of human intellect.
put the book down with a glowing sense that the human mind can encompass
and generate anything at all, even oblivion and nothingness as well as
compassion and truth. The book will do well for anybody intellectually
curious and capable of being passionate about ideas. Fortunately, it
will also do well for those who want a series of short chapters that can
be read as cogent summaries of important areas of research.
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota 55057.