Messing with Memory through US Politics Alex Liu

Progress Journal:

Elective readings:

I did two elective readings, listening to both the Radiolab "Adding Memory" and reading “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. The article really resonated me, as it talked about how humans are becoming less intelligent as a result of certain new technologies, such as Google. Many people are not bothering to commit certain facts to memory, as they know that they can just find it online in a matter of seconds. As a result, our brains are storing less information. As Carr put it, as we continue to rely more and more on computers for knowledge, "it is our own knowledge that flattens into artificial intelligence." Through reading this article, I have realized that it is also important to remember certain facts, even if they are only a Google search away.


Our documentation contains the information from our script.

Script information:

Knowledge question: Can our pre-conceived beliefs contaminate our current memory?

Memory is a way of knowing in which we gain knowledge through past events and experiences that have happened in our lives. It can easily be influenced by a variety of external factors. Memory is unreliable for many reasons - especially these four: forgetting, mis-remembering, stereotyping, and biases.

Forgetting is very common. For example, most people probably do not remember all of the specific information that they learned before, such as dates and statistics. One famous example is of Yo-Yo Ma, who forgot a $2.5 million cello in the trunk of his taxi.

Mis-remembering also happens a lot, and our experiment was related to this. People misremember things very often, even when they are very confident that they are correct. For example, most people thought that the famous saying was "mirror, mirror on the wall" even though it was actually "magic mirror on the wall."

Stereotyping is quite common as well, and can be especially dangerous with eye-witness testimony. This can cause people to incorrectly believe that a person committed the crime simply because they fit under a particular stereotype.

Bias also clouds memory, and there are four main types: emotional, narrative, egocentric, and vividness. Emotional bias is when the details of an event are altered in one's memory as a result of the person feeling a strong emotion throughout the event. For example, if a person was feeling sad and depressed during an event, the details may be altered to become more depressing. With narrative bias, people will reject events that don't quite fit with the "story." In egocentric bias, people tend to believe that they played a larger role in the event than they actually did. In vividness bias, people tend to think that more vivid events are more important or significant than less vivid ones.

One of the most relatable and recent real-world examples of this was related to the US Presidential Election of 2016, between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Fake news about the candidates proliferated, and people only remembered what they thought was true. They were quick to criticize the candidate that they did not support for all his or her flaws, but never remembered the mistakes that their candidate made. As a result, the nation became very divided over the election, with many people strongly leaning towards one side.

Fake news and unreliable facts spread easily as a result of social media. Social media made it very easy for people to publish articles about the candidates, and people could read them from just a single click. Confirmation bias also affected this problem, as people focused on the news that fit their beliefs but ignored the news that did not.

In Donald Trump's Presidency, he has censored many news sources, which plays into this idea of memory. By reducing the amount of negative information about him that the public sees, they are less likely to remember all the negative aspects of him, which will improve the public opinion of him.

Thus, as a result of both our experiment and real-life examples, we can say with a resounding "yes" that our pre-conceived beliefs can contaminate our current memory.


I propose the inclusion of the following essential question to the list: To what extent should we trust memory as a way of knowing? I think that this is a very important question that strongly pertains to the Way of Knowing memory. For example, especially in history, memory is the only way in which we know many things. For generations, stories were passed down orally, through the memory of the people. Eventually, these stories were written down, but only after many generations. While we do know that many of these stories have turned into folk legends that are obviously not true, others still yield valuable information about the society at the time. I believe that it belongs in the list of essential questions for memory, as it relates to the use of this whole Way of Knowing.

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