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52 MIN READ TIME

The Gadfly

BY CAROL TAVRIS

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.

Today, in our health-conscious culture permeated by people eating kale, meditating, and working out, it seems tempting to regard the brain as just another muscle, one whose relevant parts can be “exercised” to keep them from getting flabby and plump. Memory exercises and meditation to the rescue! Puzzles, games, and challenges are today’s mental weights.

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Other Articles in this Issue


Editor’s Letter
The Skeptics Society is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) educational organization
COLUMNS
Anti-Aging Claims: The Fountain of Youth Is Still Only a Legend
Michelle E. Ainsworth holds an MA in history. She enjoys
SPECIAL SECTION CLASSIC SKEPTICISM
Why the Myth Endures
TO SOMEONE WITH BIOLOGICAL TRAINING, ONE OF THE MOST irritating
A Pictographic Creation Story
Sightings of Mysterious Clowns Rattle Nerves in South Carolina
ARTICLES
LAST JUNE, THE LONG AWAITED SEQUEL INDEPENDENCE Day: Resurgence opened
Is “Spirituality” so Broadly Defined that Testing for It Is Meaningless?
THE NOTION THAT WE’RE ALL JUST COMPUTER simulations living in
The Cancer-care Industry’s Marketing Is Among the Most Deceptive on the Consumer Landscape
One of the Most Fundamental Sources of Error in Human Judgment
Thinking Critically about Public Discourse
REVIEWS
A review of three books about the Salem Witch Trials
A Review of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Taunton
JUNIOR SKEPTIC
Welcome back to the curious tale of mammoths and mastodons!
We ended Part One with a wonderful scene from 200
With new fossil discoveries and Cuvier’s research, it was becoming
Rembrandt Peale was mistaken about his carnivorous mastodon with the
At the same time that new fossil discoveries were revealing
The first few decades of the 1800s brought a wealth
It’s a lot of trouble to make money selling tickets
People who read newspapers during the 1800s found tall tales
We’ve come a long way since the days when mammoth