Old cases and false memories
How can we tell a false memory from a real one? Not everyone reports paranormal events at the time they occur. Sometimes they wait for years to report it – I’ve spoken to such people. But how reliable are their memories after all that time?
I’ve discovered both false and real memories in my own past. The way I informally tested the memories was to return to places I’d known many years before. In some cases I found my memory of the location was accurate but in others it was significantly wrong. Where there were big differences it wasn’t because of real changes in the built environment. It was clear my memory was wrong even though it felt right.
But what about a memory of a one-off incident? I tested these by looking at contemporary accounts I made of incidents in my past and compared them with my memory. Disturbingly, I found my memory was almost always rather inaccurate! Having said that I do have a poor memory. I’m prepared to accept that others may do better in such a test. Nevertheless, it is entirely likely that a one-off incident will be less well remembered than local geography. I will have reinforced my memories of a particular location by making several visits. Though even there I still had significant false memories.
So how can I judge the one-off memories where I made no contemporary record? From these informal tests I would have to seriously doubt that such memories are accurate. So if I’d seen a ghost many years ago and not recorded the incident in any way I don’t think I could take that memory seriously.
So what are we to make of such old reports by other witnesses? One thing that is always recommended when investigating paranormal reports, whether old or recent, is to visit the scene. This can reveal inconsistencies that may cast doubt on the report. It might turn out, for instance, that a witness could not have seen a ghost where they said they did because of some physical obstruction in the way. It doesn’t mean they didn’t see a ghost, but the details may be wrong. And examining the site may reveal possible natural explanations, like an object resembling a human figure that could have been misperceived. With old cases I think the possibility of false memories must inevitably be seriously considered.
Author :© Maurice Townsend 2020
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