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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Liar!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Back in June, I read this op-ed in the New York Times. It contains the very juicy claim that "Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often remember it as true."

The rest of the piece explains how our brains remember things. In short, the human brain does not simply store facts like a computer hard drive. Instead, facts are initially stored in the hippocampus, but then every time we remember those facts, our brain processes and restores them all over again.
In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don't remember how you learned it.
So if a piece of information--say, that Sarah Palin killed the Bridge to Nowhere project--is initially stored as true, subsequent revelations that the information is not true have to work twice as hard to win your brain's ultimate allegiance. Point/counterpoint doesn't work with this stuff. It needs to be more like point/COUNTERPOINT or point/COUNTERPOINTCOUNTERPOINTCOUNTERPOINTCOUNTERPOINT.

You get the idea. And even then there are no guarantees.

Which is what allowed Governor Palin to repeat the claim about the bridge last week during her speech at the Republican National Convention. Even though the previous week had seen the claim thoroughly debunked, the chance to seed such a symbolic idea in the brains of millions of voters was too good to pass up.

Subsequent fact-checks and Daily Show riffs will only raise the indignation of those who knew it to be a misstatement to begin with. Because Palin's intended audience, for whom she had already, in a span of only days, become an emblematic locale for their emotional commitment, has now had that claim deposited in their brain as a fact not once, not twice, but multiple times.

And every time they recall it, their brain processes it as a "fact" one more time, and her symbolic standing as a "maverick" is further and further cemented.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:41 PM

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