False Memories and Spiritual Experience


This is a short post on one of the things that ultimately helped me to see that many of my spiritual memories from when I was religious were, in fact, false memories.

In Michael Shermer’s book the Believing Brain, Shermer has an entire chapter on false memories and how it influences our perceptions of past events. My favorite comedian Louis C.K. has a great bit where he talks about his phobia about a particular gay man who always supposedly tried to hit on him, only to later recall, it was a false memory.

My college professor, Dr. Michael Sexson, was the first one to get me interested in the concept of lacunae (Greek for ‘gap’) in our memories, in a class devoted to developing the memorization skills, called “Memory theater.” The techniques we learned were used for the purpose of helping us to find a short-hand, so to speak, when memorizing our Plato and Shakespeare.

Now, reading Pamela Meyer’s book Liespotting, she begins with a description of truth bias and the research which has detailed the phenomenon  The reason she does this is important. We are unaware of it most of the time. Only after become aware of it, can we hope to avoid making the mistake, and thereby learn to detect untruths.

It always comes back to memory, and whether or not our memories, of either past events or experiences, are trustworthy. My talking with angels, hearing the voice of God, speaking with Jesus in visions, and my demonic attacks all can, in retrospect, be seen as false memories implanted in me by the reinforcing effect of truth biases related to interpersonal deception.

I think much of religious experience in general falls into this category of false belief/memory. 

It was only after I learned how to detect the ‘gaps’ in my own memories was I able to begin to grow skeptical of the experiences I thought I had had. As it turns out, I didn’t have any of those experiences. Not really, anyway. I merely thought I did.

This is something I may write more on in the future, as I am always interested in memory and in how our minds work. 

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