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ę So TV Is Pretty Much Just for Women Now, Right? | Main | White House Fence Jumper Made It Into the East Room; 2011 Shooting Incident Downplayed by Secret Service Revealed to Have Been More Serious Than Claimed Ľ
September 29, 2014

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Maybe You Can't Find That Anti-Muslim Quote I Claimed Bush Said in Any So-Called "Newspapers" or "Official Records," But I Cite the Highest Authority Possible for It: Me

That's a parody headline, but that's pretty much what he says:

Ignore the written record. My memory is an Awesome Thing that should not be easily contradicted.

Let's move on to the Bush quote, which is where things get really bad. To Seanís request that Tyson verify the quote heís been using against the former president, Tyson notes that September 11th affected him "deeply" and adds:
I have explicit memory of those words being spoken by the President. I reacted on the spot, making note for possible later reference in my public discourse. Odd that nobody seems to be able to find the quote anywhere -- surely every word publicly uttered by a President gets logged.

Yes, surely, Doctor Science.

But you say you have an explicit memory! Well my stars and garters, I didn't know you had an explicit memory!

Explicit memories are scientifically proven to be much more reliable than plain ol' memories.

So ignore the evidence -- Take my word for it. I'm a Scientist.

He goes on to say:

FYI: There are two kinds of failures of memory. One is remembering that which has never happened and the other is forgetting that which did. In my case, from life experience, Iím vastly more likely to forget an incident than to remember an incident that never happened. So I assure you, the quote is there somewhere. When you find it, tell me. Then I can offer it to others who have taken as much time as you to explore these things.

I am infallible, so ignore the evidence as documented by thousands of disinterested reporters and transcribers in the government, who write down and publish the president's words every single day.

This is all terribly scientific.

Here's What I Know About Memory: I hate to argue with a Scientist, but what I've gathered from actual science is that "memory" is actually very misconceived. We think of it like the memory of a tape recording or video recording.

It's nothing of the sort. It is certain associations (probably involving some basic keywords, like elemental notions of basic nouns and basic concepts like "direction towards" or "direction away" and "happy" and "scared") networked together in the brain as having been implicated together at one time.

When we "remember," we do not replay a tape of past events in our brain. Instead, what we do is conjure up a new narrative, make a new story for ourselves, from the embedded and networked keywords and associations.

Memory changes over time, as we re-conjure images and experiences. Sometimes new parts get added, and others subtracted.

Sometimes we add new parts that were never part of the actual experience at all and make the "memory" about something that never actually even happened.

Surely Tyson is not so completely ignorant of cognitive science that he thinks an "explicit memory" is infallible...?

Even the way Tyson speaks is anti-scientific.

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I had a very explicit memory that a certain cartoon animal was a certain color.

I actually got in a physical fight with a friend over this animal's color. My friend said the animal was one color; but I had an explicit memory of it being a different color.

He was so stupid with his Wrong Color Naming that I got angry and we got to scrappin'.

A year later I saw the cartoon again.

The animal's color? Precisely the color my friend claimed it to have been.

Precisely not the color I had claimed it to have been.

The problem was that I was remembering part of one cartoon animal -- his type, his name, his basic shape and silhouette -- but then remembering a different cartoon animal's color.

My memory glitched, and put together three correct associations (type, name, shape) with a fourth erroneous association (color).

When did this happen? Why did neurons get crossed here?

Who knows -- maybe one time when I re-conjured the image of the cartoon animal, I forgot the color, and my brain, seeking to fill in the blanks, took the color from another cartoon animal. Having a "void" in the memory bank for color, my brain took its best guess and filled the animal's shape with what seemed a plausible color.

And then, whenever I "remembered" that cartoon animal, I "remembered" the three correct attributes with the one false attribute my brain had conjured up in a pinch.

Anyway, as a six-year-old boy, I learned something about memory that the World's Greatest Scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson is still ignorant of.

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