UFO Conjecture(s)

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Oliver Sacks on Memory: It’s Faulty and it Isn’t?

Copyright 2013, InterAmerica, Inc.

Oliver Sacks, writing in the February 21st, 2013 of The New York Review of Books [Speak, Memory, Page 19 ff.], tells readers that:

“All of us “transfer” experiences to some extent, and at times we are not sure whether an experience was something we were told or read about, even dreamed about, or something that actually happened to us. [Page 19]

“… many of my [Sacks] enthusiasms and impulses, which seem entirely my own, have arisen from others’ suggestions, which have powerfully influenced me, consciously or unconsciously.  [Page 20]

“The testimony of eyewitnesses is notoriously subject to suggestion and to error. [Page 21]

“Elizabeth Loftus, the psychologist and memory researcher, has documented a disquieting success in implanting false memories by simply suggesting to a subject that he has experienced a fictitious event. [Page 21]

“… in the absence of outside confirmation, there is no easy way of distinguishing a genuine memory … from those that have been borrowed or suggested between what the psychoanalyst Donald Spence calls “historical truth” and “narrative truth.” [Page 21]

“There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or brain for ensuring the truth … of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true.

“There is no way by which the events of the world can be transmitted directly or recorded in our brains … [Page 21]

“… subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory. [Page 21]

But then, he writes:

The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.” [Page 21]

And this:

“For the most part, the people who claim to be abducted by aliens are not lying when they speak of how they were taken into alien spaceships, any more than they are conscious of having invented a story – some truly believe that this is what happened.” [Page 21]


“Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.” [Page 21, finis]

Sacks allows that memory is faulty, but also allows that a combination of memory, from within a group’s social construct may include accurate memory elements.

Also he confirms that bromide that some people, when relaying false memories, are not lying, they actually believe what they are relating.

The above goes to the heart of skeptic CDA’s (Brit Christopher Allan) insistence that UFO researcher Stanton Friedman’ insertion of his extraterrestrial bias into the Roswell incident in 1978 influenced what some witnesses (Jesse Marcel Sr. particularly) “remembered.”

Other witnesses were likewise influenced by ET suggestions and biases of the ufological investigatory mavens (Randle, Schmitt, Berlitz, et al.)

French psychologist and skeptic, Gilles Fernandez feels, as do I, that the whole memory archive of Roswell witnesses is corrupted by time and flawed neurological vicissitudes.

However, Sacks cuts witnesses and abductees lot of slack: they are employing group remembrances or believe the stories they are telling – they are not lying outright.

But Sacks’ allowing memory to be false or true, with exigencies (as noted above), does not help us to get to truth – Roswell truth, or alien abduction truths.

What can be deduced from Sacks’ insights is that accounts from memory have to be seriously caveated by those who wish to know what actually happened in a UFO sighting or event, such as Roswell.

That boils down to the fact that scientific methodology and unique “forensics” are a must when it comes to resolving the UFO mystery and some of its iconic reports (Roswell).

Are UFO researchers – real researchers – up to the task?

That’s a question which begs an answer.



  • I came away with that there is no means to eliminate subjectivity in any forensic litmus test.

    Even Sach's views on the subject are ( not surprisingly) waver in the light of his recognizing that subjectivity is a integral function of human nature and our condition.

    He rightly addressed both sides of the issue of memory while teetering back and forth on any presumption of their accuracy.

    The issue is that any experience suggests and infers associative values or defining characteristics that may or may not be present in the environment that was observed.
    Another issue is the lack of repeat-ability and the lack of comparable past history in memory that lead, at best, to "close matches" of identification by the observer led by personal and deeply ingrained associations by way of their experience, which is also subjective.

    To me, it is the recognition of what Ouspensky called "the long shadow" of individuals and the difference between the assumption we know them and what we imagine they truly are. These assessments are based on repeat-ability as a measure in behavior, while that judgement in of itself can be deceptive as a bias projection and bias projection is the bane of any forensic investigation.

    At minimum any interrogation of witnesses should be conducted by one who has no interest in the "UFO" phenomenon as to whether they exist or not.

    Thinking they exist is a form of contamination by proxy. The issue is that a disinterested person who would be willing to do this without a predisposition of contamination is nil.

    What I am saying is that is witness testimony is a small fraction of the issue to be considered and that in of itself has to be weighed against the sum total of differentiation in the total sum of witnesses, which goes back again into subjectivity and how an experience can be biased prior to it occurring.

    Racial bias, politics, skepticism, belief, what one does for a living, economic bias..it's all around us. So finding an investigator like Percival is also nil. I am not holding my breath for any to appear.

    To think so in my book is naivety cubed.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Tuesday, March 05, 2013  

  • French psychologist and skeptic, Gilles Fernandez feels, as do I, that the whole memory archive of Roswell witnesses is corrupted by time and flawed neurological vicissitudes.

    Hello Rich,

    Hum, it is not exactly what I defended in my Roswell book: I defended/showed/poited several biases, mainly suggestive/suggestion mecanisms between "witnesses" and "investigators" regarding the Roswell Saga, and promoted the "cognitive interview" to be used by the "ufologists" or by any investigators when interviewing a witness, as to avoid question with forced choice, closed questions, to promote free recall/narration, ie: zero suggestive/suggestion interactions between interviewer and interwieved.

    The following link is a good summery of the "cogntive interview", (sorry in French) :


    About "abducted", I'm a great fan of Susan Clancy... I suppose you, dear followers of this blog, know her and his works/book.

    But well, that's NOT ufology, that's Human Sciences ;)



    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Tuesday, March 05, 2013  

  • I hope you do agree, Gilles, that faulty interviewing techniques are not the only fault with the Roswell saga.

    Age, mental deterioration, and neurological quirks add to the flawed Roswell witness testimony.

    Yes, researchers added greatly to the problem of inaccurate witness testimony, but they, alone, are not totally responsible for what some witnesses have ended up telling the world about Roswell.

    Some Roswell witnesses were and are out-and-out liars, duping, for fame or attention, anyone who would listen to their made-up stories.

    I think demonizing researchers, as I am wont to do sometimes, misses the generalized social mythology that some Roswellians tried to create....as I've noted in an earlier posting here.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, March 05, 2013  

  • I agree in part, of course.

    Ie: I remember the "interview" or use by the mythmakers of William Curry Holden (one of the allegued "Archologist" in version x or y (was not the z one?^^) of the Roswell myth, by "the DreamTeam", despite what Mister Holden's daughter told about her father...


    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Tuesday, March 05, 2013  

  • " ... scientific methodology and unique 'forensics' are a must when it comes to resolving the UFO mystery and some of its iconic reports (Roswell).

    Are UFO researchers – real researchers – up to the task?"

    I long ago gave up the notion that anyone involved in Roswell "investigations" is seeking objective truth. What they seek is vindication for their own fantasies and unsubstantiated beliefs. It's not about uncovering what really happened at Roswell (if anything did, which I still don't believe) but rather, it's about who wins the "I told you so" rights and the check from The National Enquirer (neither of which will ever happen).

    As for alien abduction, this is based in a deep-seated need to belong to an exclusive group, a search for a meaning to life after God and religion have been found wanting, or an unquenchable thirst for the kind of attention that can only be gained by demonstrating one's absolute specialness. Those who seek out abduction researchers come primed to have false memories implanted, if they haven't already created false memories of their own. All the answers to alien abduction, I believe very strongly, lie totally within the realm of human psychology.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Tuesday, March 05, 2013  

  • You mentioned me and Stan Friedman. By his own admission STF would often, maybe always, send any witness he interviewed, a pack of his UFO papers (all pro-ET biased, and inevitably headed with the title "nuclear physicist") to read.

    Perhaps a few of his witnesses were fence-sitters, but after reading these papers they would certainly have become highly pro-ET. With Stan's persuasive interviewing methodology (his ex-colleague Moore once pointed this out) any witness hovering on the edge would easily be 'converted'.

    Of course there was also the prospect of appearing in a TV documentary or movie, and a bit of dosh to go with it.

    The same would apply, to a lesser extent, to abduction witnesses.

    None of the above is new. It is well known and can apply to witnesses of any strange event, but particularly in the field of ufology.

    By Blogger cda, at Wednesday, March 06, 2013  

  • CDA et al.

    The question that has never really been answered -- and Paul Kimball will be irked that I bring it up again about his Uncle Stan -- is what happened to Mr. Friedman that took him from his profession into the UFO field.

    I imagine that "set back" or whatever it was forced Friedman to try anything to make a living commensurate with his former salary.

    That still goes on with him to this day, although I think he must get a retirement amount or social security nowadays, which alleviates the need to hustle UFO crap as much as he used to.

    That his ET predilection influenced those he interviewed and those he didn't is easily observed.

    Sacks writes about such interaction between people.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, March 06, 2013  

  • I asked Stanton this question and his first response was "Why do you want to know?" I essentially posed the same question you asked. From his answer I don't think there was a gestalt moment that led to his walking away from a successful professional career as a physicist.
    Essentially his response was that he felt he could bring something to the table and most of his response was citing how successful he was at this, citing his lectures, his books etc, which sort of struck me as odd as this was not really addressing my initial question. I had the sense ( rightly or wrongly) he assumed I was trying to trap him into some kind of challenge questioning his motives( I was not). I was genuinely curious and said that it was very rare for a scientist to give up his career and guaranteed income for such a risky venture, hence my question. He felt it was not risky, which also surprised me. His answer seemed counter-intuitive. I think if he were more relaxed rather than having such a question coming out of the blue from a stranger, as it were, he would have been more forthcoming. But on the other side, outside of simple curiosity, why he pursued what he did is really none of my business, however he pursued or had foisted on him a major public role in steering the conversation. I think he is a genuinely interesting individual with all the foibles of any person, myself included as the foremost. This brings up an interesting question addressed to others (which is off topic ) which is, what event or events sent us down this path? Did Stanton' role stimulate or create a murkiness around the subject? I think the answer is both.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Wednesday, March 06, 2013  

  • Well, Friedman is retired in Canada, and I believe that government treats its retirees much better than ours does here (at least that's what my Canadian friends keep telling me).

    From everything I've read Friedman doesn't hold a doctorate (he has a masters degree), which was pretty much the kiss of death in most science-related fields around the time Friedman's career in nuclear physics ended. That was when "degree creep" in the US began accelerating out of control. For jobs that in reality needed only high school or BA knowledge, companies began requiring candidates and current employees to hold advanced degrees. This was and is still especially true in the world of federal government contracting, where the more advanced degrees a bidder can throw at a contract, the more competitive is the firm.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Wednesday, March 06, 2013  

  • BTW..
    He also said the funding dried up for the project he was involved with but again the risk factor of doing a complete turn around in his career is certainly remarkable, whatever the reason. I have my own personal view but it's best kept to myself.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Wednesday, March 06, 2013  

  • STF was a convert to ETH through reading Keyhoe's early books. In the process he also got into conspiracy ideas. Although I can't now identify in which STF paper it was, I am pretty certain that he said somewhere that the Apollo astronauts would not necessarily be allowed to tell the world if they discovered ET evidence on the moon.

    These astronauts would likely be sworn to secrecy, according to Stan.

    Following this line, it is easy to see how STF, when he first met Marcel, and was impressed by his rank and participation in the WW2 atomic bomb missions, would have adopted the conspiracy approach. Marcel obviously knew some atomic secrets. Marcel had handled 'UFO debris' (even though it was debunked and explained almost at once). This then became ET debris, then part of a Roswell cover-up, then gradually proceeding to a huge official crashed saucer conspiracy, and so on.

    By 1978 STF was fully hooked on ETH, and Marcel's experience added more fuel to the fire. Thereafter there was no stopping him. First Roswell, then MJ-12, then Betty Hill, then Flatwoods, then Aztec, and so on.

    But this blog is not really about STF, is it? We can never be certain what caused him to abandon one career for another, except that it happened around 45-50 years ago.

    By Blogger cda, at Wednesday, March 06, 2013  

  • I'll stick with the Philosophical definition of lie -- an untruth. It doesn't matter whether the person believes it or not. If it is untrue, it's a lie.

    Otherwise, we'd have no use for a term like 'intentional lie' -- which, it appears, some people think to be a 'redundant' statement.

    While there may be some bedside mannerly reasons for commiserating with someone who believes their own untruths -- ultimately, it's still an untruth. And therefore, it's still a lie...

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Thursday, March 07, 2013  

  • The ecumenical definition of truth versus individual truths in terms of memory and resulting The Rashomon Effect is based on biochemistry, which is fraught with editing, simulation, potential dysfunction in pattern recognition and the division of attention. If I attempt to go back three days ago and recall through memory as best I can, what my experiences were, it would be an exercise in futility.
    In metaphysical terms this could signify what some call not being there in the first place, or in more parochial terms, I cannot reassemble experience, even extraordinary ones become muddled with "emotional memory" rather than having a sort of existential camera in my head that is freed of associations, learned behavior, identifications with associations, semiotics etc. So, where is the singularity of truth in this by the recollection of extraneous material that is not objective in any meaningful sense in terms of the objectification of truth by memory?
    I suggest that no one is immune from this and I am no exception. Where does that leave the witness who cannot objectively witness their own state let alone something experienced that is incommensurable? I think we lie to ourselves every second in life and to not recognize that and deal with it is absurd.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Friday, March 08, 2013  

  • > As for alien abduction, this is based in a deep-seated need

    PG, I would also include extremely unhappy people who need to believe something was done to them to make them unhappy. They are casting about for a concrete cause that is outside of themselves, out of their control. This has resulted in several modern moral panics, all involving recovered memories, such as uncorroborated allegations of child abuse, satanic ritual abuse, and MPD.

    Sounds unlikely, I know, but these people often express relief at "making sense" of their unhappiness.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Tuesday, August 20, 2013  

  • > accounts from memory have to be seriously caveated

    Sacks sounds like most cautious scientists. I have been reading older books about hypnoanalysis and forensic hypnosis and the authors issue many warnings, though they believe in the accuracy of the memories when the treatment is carefully applied.

    It's the investigators who express certainty that also indulge in framing the question, priming the subject with info, asking leading questions, selective use of witness statements in forming interpretations, and sometimes outright replacement of witness statements with the investigator's own predetermined notions of what really happened.

    Certainty is a red flag.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Tuesday, August 20, 2013  

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