By Max Shatz
CCC Journalism Program
BLACKWOOD – Memory is a temperamental aspect of the human experience. It is in a constant state of liquid flux that we are constantly subject to the whims of. It is this idea that was the topic of discussion for the most recent Own Our Ignorance Club (or OWN) meeting.
However, to truly intellectually discuss memory, one has to have a better understanding of how memory functions. Heading the meeting, student Jordan Smart began by clarifying the group’s understanding. Smart emphasized how memory works in a “whisper-down-the-lane” fashion, even within one’s own memories. In this way, a memory of an event is only partially if at all an actual recollection of the original event, but is instead a recollection of the most recent time the event was thought about or more commonly, the last time the memory was spoken about.
This was summarized by member Nick Fishman, who related this to his experiences as a child when he recalled travelling on a train to Israel. It was only later that Fishman learned that no such thing existed and that he never had been to Israel at all.
This also relates to another topic covered during the meeting; the fallacy of the validity of memories. In his story, Fishman was 100 percent certain that he had experienced something even though he had not. This complete belief that one’s memories are true is not only a false assumption, but can lead to horrible consequences. This is exacerbated by the mind capturing memories with oddly specific details intermingled with oddly vague details when undergoing a traumatic experience. This “flashbulb memory” leaves the person experiencing the event with very vivid mental snapshots of their surroundings. However, this complete certainty is far from accurate.
As stated in the video explanation of “Picking Cotton,” “An eyewitness [to a crime] that is uncertain can become more certain over time.” This perfectly applies to Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, co-author of the memoir. After she was raped, Cannino was put through the rigorous process of screening suspects in line-ups. With complete certainty, she accused Ronald Cotton of raping her. He served 11 years in prison before DNA evidence proved his innocence. What’s more, this is not an isolated incident. Seventy-five percent of exonerated cases (those thrown out/wrongful) are due to misidentification by an eyewitness.
As the meeting came to a close, Smart summarized all that was discussed by saying, “It’s hard to distinguish between what must have been and what really is.”