September 11, 2001

A. Where were you?
B. What were you doing?
C. Who do you remember being with you?
D. Who did you talk to?
E. What did you say or hear?

Let’s assume you wrote out five responses.

A. _______

B. _______

C. _______

D. _______

E. _______

 

Two of these answers are probably wrong.

I’m not kidding.

 

In the days after 9/11/01, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers surveyed thousands of people these same questions I just asked you and they collected thousands upon thousands of hand-written responses. link

 

Ten years later, this imaginative paraphrase happened:

“Hey. It’s us. Remember us?”

“Oh, yeah, hey, I remember you.

”We asked you to tell us what happened on September 11th.”

”Yeah, I remember. I wrote down all of my memories. What was that for?”

“Well, we wanna find out.”

“Cool.”

“You remember what happened?”

“Of course. Clearly.”

“Would you retell us?”

“Sure.”

 

A. Where were you?
B. What were you doing?
C. Who do you remember being with you?
D. Who did you talk to?
E. What did you say or hear?

 

And, again, the facts are written out:

A. _______

B. _______

C. _______

D. _______

E. _______

 

 

Half the facts are different.

Ten years later the researchers found that half the facts – not “up to” half the facts, or “sometimes” half the fact, but startlingly, half the facts – were different.

Across all demographics – age, gender, ethnicity, religion, intelligence, affluence, height, etc., nearly half of the facts recalled were not in the original description.

OK, I don’t know that they accounted for height. I put that in the list because it seemed funny to me when I was editing this article. And a little joke here seemed helpful because the enormity of the implications feels a bit like a punch to the stomach when I first heard this.

Half of the facts were different.

50%. One out of every two.

Half of our memories of what researchers call “flashbulb events” – major, surprising, or emotional pieces of news – are probably different, conflated, missing, or added than reality.

Wow.

 

Homework.

“What? That can’t be true. Not me! My memory is just fine, thank you. Those statistics are for other people. I’m certain where I was and what happened on 9/11. Certain.”

I can’t get my mind around the idea that my memories aren’t synonymous with reality.

And, yet, I must.

I am a rationalist.

If the statistics say that 50% of the facts in the thousands of people studied are garbled, then, I must accept that mine – despite what I feel to be certainty – are also tarnished.

My (spiritual) homework always is this: to accept reality as it is.

Even if that means that I am not certain what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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