Remember the Brian Williams controversy? The anchor of NBC News was pulled from his position when it was broadcast to viewers that he fibbed about being involved in heavy artillery fire during an Iraq war incident. Question is, was this lie really just an embellishment that was concocted by the brain to help ensure mental stability? Mr. Williams reputation was shot down by parts of the brain to help increase chances of survival.
Memories are neurons (brain cells) that are strung together. Like a pearl necklace, where the pearls are the neurons. The string is the pathway containing the actual memory scene.
Let’s say we recall a memory. Group of friends and I were at Disney World visiting the Haunted Mansion. The ride scared the living daylights out of me. When exiting this attraction, I met up with the dressed-up characters posing as Mickey and Donald. Next, my group of friends and I got a little bit toasted drinking ale at a nearby pub. Days later, when I told other friends the story, I forgot about the dressed-up characters. So that necklace (memory) lost a pearl (neuron). When re-telling the same story, the memory attached to Mickey and Donald is now gone forever. Another friend that was present on this vacation trip, collaborated that I had screamed during the Haunted Mansion ride. I inserted this pearl into my memory string. Next time I repeated the story, the memory would change to include myself screaming in horror of the moment. In this case, it was a false memory. My friend actually thought it was I screaming in the darkness, where the reality was, it was someone in another group. Now I’ve inserted that false fragment in my memory string. And I would swear under oath that I screamed during that event.
Remember in grade school when the teacher would form a circle to whisper a story that gets spread from child to child. When the last student repeats what has been said, it is completely different from what was initially spoken by the teacher. Short term memory has the same shortcomings as this childhood game. And our court systems rely on witness testimonies to find someone guilty or innocent. Collaboration that goes on in private between the jurors results in the insertion of many false fragments that paint a disturbingly flawed picture. The result is that innocent people get put away for crimes they never committed.
Every time a single memory is brought up, it a composed of a number of thought fragments. The story continues to change with each retelling. We continue to create a slightly different story around new fragments that find their way into that single memory. As time progresses the original story has significantly changed sometimes to the point of complete fallacy.
Consolidation, that occurs during sleep, puts various fragments of memory together. But that togetherness is always in a constant state of flux. This means that false fragments get inserted, facts get deleted and embellishments continue to discombobulate the reality of what actually happened from the initial sensory perception. The more information that floods the brain, the higher the chance of information overload. With too much information at one time, the brain pigeonholes a small view perspective of a much larger picture.
In times of extreme stress, which doesn’t mean just a scary ride but a chance to die in real-time, memories are widely distorted. Everyone that encountered this experience has a different perspective on what happened. Adrenalin floods the body! In the case of Mr. Williams, he and others heard loud explosions outside their helicopter. These vibrations shook the flying vehicle. This shock completely undermined their safe-mode reality on what was really going on. Is Mr. Williams going to perish? Will the helicopter explode in mid-air? What kind of defensive manuever can be performed to stop what may be the end of all lives on the rotorcraft? So the perception of reality by the brain is undermined by the priority of survival.
Mr. Williams on retelling the story had no reason to lie. Anyone of us could have fallen victim to the mind altering effects on perception of “reality.” I did in the grade school with “pass the secret” in addition to my vacation at Disney. The only difference is that I wasn’t an NBC anchor being listened to and watched by million of viewers. So Mr. Brian Williams, your only fault was being as human as the rest of us.