Bad Theories are Made of This

As stated before I love conspiracy theories. I love how people build worlds within worlds within worlds in the search for meaning spinning out vast mythologies to replace the traditional mysticism they can’t bring themselves to believe in anymore (or use them to buttress waning scraps of faith they can muster up).

Anyhoo, there are some that I just cannot get into no matter how hard I try. The latest, lamest conspiracy craze seems to be the Mandela Effect. The idea is that the CERN super-collider (or some other event) has changed history retroactively by creating new time lines in the past… or something like that.

But after watching about three or four videos it becomes very clear what’s actually going on and it’s so banal I feel dumb writing this, but I guess not everybody realizes or accepts this so…. here goes.

In the normal course of events, human memory does not store units of language longer than a couple of words and at some level it doesn’t seem to be working with language at all but rather with meaning and associations (which have their own rules). Similarly, images (which includes writing) are not stored as images but as meaning and representations of meaning (and associations).

Anyone who’s used search engines for a few years knows the feeling, you’re looking for a specific quote that you seem to remember vividly but it doesn’t turn up anywhere and when you do find it you find that it’s subtley different from what you remember – the meaning is the same but the surface form is just different enough that you couldn’t find what you were looking for.

At the collective level, people often edit what they’re hearing without realizing it. Many mis-remembered elements are probably improvements of the originals. So that back in the 1970s people were fond of pointing out that Humphrey Bogart never actually said “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca though many people thought it was one of the most memorable lines in movie history. When Darth Vader says “No, I’m you’re father” people add in Luke’s name in their memory because that’s who he’s talking to. “Sweet dreams are made of these” is a better rhyme (for “the seven seas”) than “made of this”. etc etc etc.

Watching the lengths people go to in order to construct a meaningful universe is often bemusing and sometimes kind of admirable, but this is just lame. Stop it, already.

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1 Response to Bad Theories are Made of This

  1. Garr says:

    “In the normal course of events, human memory does not store units of language longer than a couple of words and at some level it doesn’t seem to be working with language at all but rather with meaning and associations (which have their own rules). Similarly, images (which includes writing) are not stored as images but as meaning and representations of meaning (and associations).”

    I often wonder about this. What are these “Meanings”? Some people have suggested that they are eternal Ideas (strange objects of a non-sensory awareness) that cannot themselves be imagined. Others have suggested that they are practical “dispositions” — like a sports-player’s readiness to run this way or that way depending on what happens in the game. Neither suggestion seems right to me — the first because it really relies upon the cartoon-image of an Idea as a glowing body or line on a heavenly road-map, the second because there just seems to be more going on when we think things through than a process of getting ready to move our own body-parts around.

    Something that I thought of while reading your last paragraph on how people like to edit the past to make it feel more coherent to them: people who generate overall theories of how cultures rise and fall or grow and die try to fit all of the known or suspected trends of the past into the patterns they imagine. Spengler does this, of course — I worked my way through both volumes of Decline of the West a few years ago and it was very impressive (although I didn’t understand the business about double-entry bookkeeping as the expression of a Faustian mentality, which he spent a lot of time on). He thinks that cultures are a kind of organism, and as such would have a certain life-pattern. The best response that I read somewhere was that even if this is true, we don’t have enough samples of cultures in front of us to enable us to confidently assert that such-and-such is the cultural life-pattern. (Also, what if one culture is like a bear, another like a salmon, another like a tree — three different kinds of organisms, with very different life-patterns?)

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