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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.4 > The Gadfly

The Gadfly

Can Working Memory Be Trained to Work Better?

I HATE WRITING THIS ISSUE’S COLUMN. Sometimes it is really annoying to have to review information you don’t want to hear, but it’s my moral and scientific obligation to do it, so you don’t have to. Like most of humanity over the age of 37,1 I have been awaiting the scientific discoveries that will improve my memory. In my lifetime, I have seen enough of these to realize that memory-improvement advice generally depends on whatever model of memory is current at the time. When people erroneously believed that memories were “filed away,” the solution was to improve our card-catalog system. When people erroneously believed that memories were recorded as if on tapes, the solution was to find a way to rewind them (and remove the dust and scratches). When people erroneously believed that memories were “buried,” like pirate treasure or potatoes, the solution was to find ways to “uproot” them. Some of these memory-improvement methods were benign; others, like “recovered memory therapy,” hypnosis, and truth serum, had malevolent consequences that destroyed many lives and families. I am sympathetic to the desire to improve our muddy memories and restore forgotten ones. We are our memories.

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DECEPTION IN CANCER TREATMENT SPECIAL ISSUE: The Cancer-care Industry’s Marketing is Among the Most Deceptive on the Consumer Landscape. SPECIAL SECTION: Classic Skepticism: The Amityville Hoax at 40; Alien Sulls: Do the Mysterious Rhodope Skull and Adygea Skulls Belong to Aliens?; The Real Meaning Behind the Nazca Geoglyphs; Clown Panics: Sightings of Mysterious Clowns Rattle Nerves ARTICLES: The Case for a Galactic Defense System; Is “Spirituality” so Broadly Defined that Testing for it is Meaningless?; Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?; Luck and Regression to the Mean: One of the Most Fundamental Sources of Error in Human Judgment; Political Obfuscation: Thinking Critically about Public Discourse. COLUMNS: The SkepDoc: Anti-Aging Claims: The Fountain of Youth is Still Only a Legend, by Harriet Hall, M.D.; The Gadfly: Can Working Memory Be Trained to Work Better? by Carol Tavris REVIEWS: “Three books about the Salem Witch Trials and their legacy: The Witches: Salem, by Stacy Schiff; In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, by Mary Beth Norton; America Bewitched: America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft After Salem, by Owen Davies JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Mammoth Mysteries! Part Two, by Daniel Loxton