Saturday, June 28, 2008

Of swift boats, baby mamas and long term cortical storage

Tell a lie a thousand times and people might (just might) start to think that it rings true. An elegant explanation of how the brain achieves this is documented here and is attributed to a phenomenon called 'source amnesia'.

The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.

With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A false statement from a non credible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength

The news channel FOX has been burning the midnight oil in the recent weeks and have come up with the following innovative things to say about one of the candidates for the Presidency of the United States:

- A commentator accidentally confused "Obama" with "Osama" and then joked on the air about killing Obama.

- An anchor talked about a playful fist bump by Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama and theorized that it could be a "terrorist fist jab"

- The news network also managed to label Michelle Obama "Obama's baby mama"— slang for an unmarried mother of a man's child...

The connections between this pattern and the one seen during the Swift Boat days four years ago are not lost on the political observers among us… Fortunately, Obama has started a website that aims to counter statements that could contribute to ‘source amnesia’. I am not too sure how successful this endeavor might be, but personally I am bracing for a long, hot summer ahead where barbs are certain to fly back and forth and the latent animosities between blacks and whites will reach fever pitch. My only wish is that after all the dust settles post elections, the rancor between the races should come to an end. More than Republicans or Democrats ruling this country, simmering and uncompensated race dynamics could do the most harm to our fabric.

Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), ‘Le rendezvous des chats’, 1968, French lithograph, 42 X 33 cm (source JAMA magazine April 18, 2007 Vol 297 No. 15)

1 comment:

JafaBrit's Art said...

As usual, your posts are excellent reads on social issues. Amazing how the brain works and something so clearly untrue can become accepted as true.