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Saturday, May 30, 2020


I used to think people obviously noticed when they were posting or promoting now-mainstream information that they argued against and dismissed just two months prior, but it turns out NOPE.

So here's a funny insight about that, in the more general case: If someone loses an arm, the mapping in that whole region of the brain shifts around to move nearby functions into that now-unused area. This creates a bit of a conundrum for memory: How can we remember things from the past (which is presumably done via lasting connections to the associated neurons) if the representation is malleable and shifting over time?

This seemed unsolvable and mysterious to me until I realized it is essentially unsolvable but there's no mystery: People's memories simply change and remap as this happens. (In other words, our memories lie to us.) Because of the nature of encoding (per my personal theories and understanding) when the representation changes over time it tends to preserve analogous meaning (re-purposed neurons slide most easily into the nearest role to the one they used to serve; and this creates, as a group, a continuum of analogy over time so that even if the meaning drifts quite far, there remains an analogy of role and relationship among the various neurons to where they once were). So, memories don't just randomly scramble, they analogically adjust.

What this means is that as people learn new things and update their model of the world, their memories are adjusted to fit the new model by analogy. Or, in other words, if their old model is wrong, they won't remember having been wrong, because their old model has changed and can't even be called upon any more with which to remember that past. Instead they remember the past using their current model, as if they had it all along. (And to whatever degree factual points are retained, such as via a memory of specific words said, those points will be still be felt and interpreted within the broader conceptual context of their current model transported back in time. Queue extensive rationalization.)

This is why I keep a written log of beliefs and predictions--both my own and others'. You might be surprised if you do that how different your own past is from how you remember it. And you'll give up on expecting others to learn from their mistakes.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com