Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No Such Thing as a Spotless Mind.....Right?

I've been watching too many programs about the universe.  I'm elbow deep in a series on the Science Channel called Through the Wormhole.  It's hosted by Morgan Freeman and with his silky voice and comforting demeanor, he proceeds to scare the shit out of me on a weekly basis.  Topics covered range from the complexities of a single strand of DNA to likelihood of alien life on other planets, in other galaxies.  And I can't help myself.  When I see there's another episode saved on the DVR, I rush to learn about all the things I need to know at night when I'm trying to sleep but my brain in swimming with thoughts of immortality and super robots with a collective brain.  Yesterday I sat down on my roommate's uber sofa to catch up on last week's shows.  This episode was about memories.  How they are formed, what they can tell us about the subconscious mind, and how they can be manipulated into becoming a false memory.  One created by another person who wants you, for whatever reason, to remember something as they did, or as they desire you to remember.  And it's not hard to do!  See, humans by nature are eager to please.  And if someone we trust is telling us "No!  It didn't happen like that, it happened like this!"  we tend to think that, perhaps, we've forgotten details and they are right.

I found myself laughing out loud as I recalled an argument I had with two dear friends about the timing of a silly incident that happened in Rome last summer.  I'm certain it happened the way I recalled it but my two friends insist it was just the opposite.  It's nothing important, life changing, or deal breaking and the timing really isn't necessary to the actual funny part of the story.  But two people insisting I'm wrong made me question my memory.  See, I pride myself on having a great memory and when I'm challenged I often ask for proof.  Fine!  They both think it happened then when I said it was some other time.  Fine.  But I started thinking of other memories.  Those buried deep in my subconscious.  The kind, good and bad, that have helped to create my personality.  The traumatic moments that caused me to be more cautious, and the happy kinds that helped develop my sense of humor.  And then I started thinking about people in my life who have actively sought to manipulate those memories.  Now, I'm not talking about the two friends.  They weren't aiming to disagree with me as a form of manipulation.  I'm talking about specific things remembered that altered my life and, for whatever reason, I was encouraged, coerced to remember them in a completely different way.  Wow.  This is a powerful tool of control.  If someone can convince you something happened differently than you remembered or not at all they could, in a sense, change segments of your personality.

And then I started thinking of all the times it actually happened.  And have I ever been party to memory coercion? Oh god!!  I'm an asshole!!!  Okay....deep breath.

Of course when stupid mistakes are made, we'd all like people to forget about them.  For instances, not long ago I made a huge mistake.  I lost control of myself and made a complete asshole of Carrie. For days I walked around with my head lowered and hid in my apartment until I felt like it could blow over.  Finally, I spoke with some of the friends who were present for this falling apart, and after my apologies to them, I apologized to myself, learned from the situation and moved on to laugh about it all.  I wish they could just forget it ever happened.  I wish it never happened.  But I can't change their perception of my actions, and why bother?  But they remember it in a certain way and should I try to alter their memory, I'd just cause more strife for myself.  But back to this idea of someone manipulating your memories, let's dive into that for a second.  Here's how it works - according to Morgan Freeman and the Science Channel anyway.  You recall an incident, be it happy or traumatic, and someone you trust tells you it didn't happen that way.  That you are wrong.  And if you fight it or stand up for yourself, you are then called "crazy".  So, inevitably you start doubting yourself and wonder: "Am I completely insane or did that really happen?"  This is one tool used in a psychological manipulation approach called Gaslighting. I first heard about it in a blog I follow called The Current Conscious - I highly recommend you take a look at it.  Anyway, what happens is someone convinces you that what you've experienced and remember didn't happen and you're told it's insane, crazy, or ridiculous.  So, self-doubt settles in making it seem as though you can no longer trust your own memories.  Now, the science of memory is complex and nobody has flawless memory.  However, when something is clearly recalled (as much as possible) and someone else tells you it's insane, you start to believe it.  Dismissing your recollection and ultimately changing your perception to a person or situation that should have acted as a learning experience.  AHHHHHH.  It's exhausting.

What it all boils down to is the power of suggestion is mighty.  It can change your thoughts, memories, and future reality.  It's how cults work to begin manipulating their masses.  Convincing them their family and friends don't care or don't understand how important they are and the cult is the only refuge. It's all part of the the complex puzzle of manipulation.  And it's just one piece.  And even knowing it's possible without a blink can be so scary that you begin to wonder "who can I trust?"

It's all about that dirty word: manipulation.  And face it!  We all participate in some form or another to get our way.  As children we learn to cry a certain way or act out for attention.  That behavior doesn't go away simply because we became adults.  Instead it changes as we mature and those of us who are trying to be responsible adults recognize when we're being manipulative and childlike.  But some people are just stuck. I'm not going to lay blame on the world and say I've never been a part of these tactics.  We all have. But there are just some repeat offenders out there.  And, for lack of a better term, they want to bend our thoughts and memories to suit their will and desire.  I've been examining my own behavior lately.  Knowing when to stand up and back off.  The more we make ourselves aware of selfish tactics, the better our relationships can become and thrive in a healthy, life-giving way.  At least I choose to believe that.

Science tells us that humans are the smartest animals on the planet because we have cognitive thought.  Well, with that comes emotions.  And with emotions comes choices in dealing with something so delicate; the human spirit.  Wouldn't it be easier to lay in the grass, soaking the sunshine, scratching our asses?  But alas, I am a human.  We are just mere humans.  

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