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No Identity Without Memory (Lecture for Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don)

Uploaded 10/25/2018, approx. 1 hour 4 minute read

Esteemed colleagues, dear students, in my lecture last month, I tried to point to various underlying difficulties in modern psychology.

One of the foundational constructs, foundational concepts in psychology, is personality. It's a linguistic unit, if you wish, element of language.

And in science, we try to define language, we try to convert language, to transform it into a kind of one-on-one, monovalent dictionary, so that we both, all of us, agree on the same meaning for the same word, and so that we can have a meaningful discourse as scholars and scientists.

But when we come to many, many concepts in psychology, we have difficulty to do that.

And I pointed to five such difficulties in the discussion of personality, character, temperament, and identity, personal identity.

The first is that a lot of the conversation is culture-bound. In other words, a lot of the conversation, a lot of the discourse in psychology depends crucially on values, mores, and beliefs endemic or specific to a society or to a culture or to a period in history or to civilization or to a region.

In other words, these constructs are not transportable across the ages and across different cultures and societies.

And that's a problem.

I mentioned several. I mentioned Zoa, which is demon possession, which in Africa is considered normal. I mentioned Taijin Kyofushu in Japan, which is considered praiseworthy. I mentioned Ivila, which in vast parts, vast tracts of Latin America and Spain and other countries, parts of Russia even.

The Ivila is considered to be a reality to be defended against. And I mentioned homosexuality, that until 1980 was considered to be a mental health disorder in the United States and throughout North America, and has been removed as a mental health diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual only in 1980.

Similarly, sadomasochistic sex was classified as a mental health problem, even a paraphilia. It's kind of sexual perversion until 2013 and was removed only five years ago.

And today is considered to be a healthy activity between consenting adults.

So a lot depends on how society and culture and civilization view on their views.

And so that's the first problem.


The second problem is that the perception of reality.

We tend to believe following the Cartesian view, following the view of Genné Descartes in the 17th century, we tend to divide the world. There is we as observers and the world, reality which we observe.

So this dichotomy, this break between observer and observed is relatively new. It's 300 years old.

In all Eastern religion and philosophy, it's rejected. In the vast majority of Eastern philosophies, there is no such distinction.

We are the world and the universe is us. So this is a new enlightenment age way of looking at the world.

And because it's new and because it's not necessarily very true, there is a problem with defining reality and perceiving reality and recreating reality and so on.

And actually many, many human beings, hundreds of millions are in mental states such as psychotic disorder or Anton Babinski or pseudo insomnia and I can mention many others.

Even in certain personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder, many people who have these mental disorders would disagree with us about what constitutes reality. And where there is such vast disagreement about the nature of reality, it is the nature of reality itself that is in doubt.

Is there such a thing as reality in the psychological sense?

So that's the second foundational problem and the third foundational problem is that we don't have access to anyone else's mind.

We have to trust other people's reports and we have to make a hidden assumption based on empathy, what we call an intersubjective assumption.

We have to make a hidden assumption that everyone is like us. If it is another human being, then it's like us. It experiences pain and hurt and emotions and love and colors and everything like us. We are all the same. This is of course an untestable hypothesis. It could be that all human beings are the same but it could very well be that each and every human being is unique and experiences emotions and cognitions and sensory input in totally different way. So we don't know.

And the intersubjective agreement is arbitrary and so on.

However, the concept of personality relies on certain elements which are human, in common to all humans and so it's a problem.

And I mentioned a state of dementia which is a delusion where people believe they are dead, they don't exist. So there's a massive disagreement there about reality and I mentioned for example dissociation or dissociative states where we for a while disconnect from the world. We are not in the world.

And for these periods, we all dissociate hundreds of times a day and for the period of dissociation whether it's half a second and whether it's a few hours or whether it's a few days and sometimes years that's called fugue states. For this period of dissociation, we do not have access to reality and we have no agreement about what constitutes reality and there's no reality actually. So is reality a crucial aspect of personality and more specifically is continuity and memory crucial aspects and that is the topic of today's lecture.

Then I mentioned that because we divided the world into me and not me, observer and observed, we also automatically created the concept of the other. There's me and all others, the other.

And the other carries in it the intersubjective assumption. Yes, it's the other but it's so much like me that we have so much in common that it's actually the other but I know what it is to be that other. Of course, that is totally wrong first of all because the intersubjective agreement as I just said cannot be proven, it's untestable and could be utterly wrong, we don't know.

And there are groups of people like narcissists and psychopaths who are not like us and these are not small groups of people. They are big groups of people, borderline personality disorder, people with other mental health disorders such as psychotic disorders. These people are not like us in any sense of the word and to assume that they are like us is counterproductive, sometimes dangerous.

So the assumption of the other, the creation of the other in the modern philosophy, modern theory of mind is a problem but then without other, there's no me because me is defined in opposition to the other. The contrast is crucial. So if there's no other, there's no me and if there's no me, there's no personality, there's no identity.

And finally, I mentioned the medicalization of psychology, trying to transform psychology into a branch of medicine or even a branch of exact science with statistics, mathematics, measurements, brain, magnetic resonance, this, that. It's nice, very nice but it doesn't answer the crucial philosophical questions such as what causes what? Correlation is not causation. Psychological experiments cannot be repeated because the subject matter changes all the time. And also they are based on self-reporting and self-reporting is dubious. Some people will mislead on purpose such as psychopaths and narcissists. Some people are simply not sufficiently self-aware. So self-reporting is a very dubious instrument in structured interviews and so on.


But let's go to the topic of today's lecture and that is a topic essentially of identity, memory and identity.

I contend that there is no identity without memory. We have extreme memory disturbances such as retrograde amnesia, more severe amnesia.

We have, as I said, dissociative states which last for days or even months or even years like fugue states.

So we have a few outliers, we have a few unusual mental health situations where memory is disrupted massively and people don't remember who they are, where they come from, they don't remember their loved ones and they don't remember their own personal history and biography.

And I contend that these people don't have identity.


Now to start with we must make a very important distinction between identity and sense of identity.

We all have a sense of existence and that is Descartes' famous cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am.

So who is this, who is doing the thinking? Who is doing the thinking?

The minute you think you exist, there is a sense of existence.

However, it's mistakenly labeled a sense of identity. A sense of existence is not the same as identity.

Identity relies crucially on information and information relies incontrovertibly on memory. There is no identity with zero memory. Zero memory, zero identity.

And we have situations like for example cogito ergo sum, where alcohol destroys all the synapses and the axons in the brain, the connections, the interconnections, all the neural pathways. And these people have difficulty to remember more than a few seconds.

So every few seconds they reboot, like rebooting a computer, every few seconds. And they don't remember what happened a few seconds ago. They don't retain information for more than a few seconds.

And you can see that they don't have an identity because they keep asking the same questions and keep, for example, they keep asking you who you are, who are you, although you have introduced yourself already a hundred times.

So there's no sense of identity there. Identity depends on two things.

It not only depends on information, raw information or processed information, but it depends on continuity.

In other words, it depends crucially on a narrative, a storyline, a script, a movie of one's existence, where A leads to B, B leads to C, and C is the outcome of maybe unrelated D.

But everything fits together. Everything is cohesive and coherent. Makes sense. There's causation. There's interrelatedness. The narrative is crucial. There's no narrative without continuity.

If your existence is disjointed, it would be very hard for you to develop a sense of identity.

And therefore, there is no identity without memory.

Memory is the tool with which we gather information from the environment and about our internal state, and we integrate this information into a narrative or create a story.

Remember the famous book, Remembrance of Things Past. It was written by Marcel Proust at the beginning of the 20th century.

Marcel Proust was a gay Jewish author with tuberculosis. He was dying, very similar to Franz Kafka, who lived more or less at the same period.

And Marcel Proust opens his mega opus. It's the biggest book ever written. It's a few thousand pages.

So he opens his mega opus. The hero, the protagonist of the book, smells freshly baked, muddling cookies. And it is this smell that opens the floodgates of memory.

The smell provokes him, triggers him, and he suddenly remembers everything. He remembers his childhood, remembers his adolescence, remembers his first love, second love. All his life unravel and unfurl, owing to this olfactory smell trigger.

And that's not far from reality, by the way, as we shall see.

But it is this river of memory, stream of consciousness, that makes the protagonist who he is.

Had he not, we realize that if he didn't have these memories, he would not have existed as a separate individual.

Being an individual depends crucially on demarcating yourself from the environment, in other words, having boundaries, and within these boundaries on maintaining an ecosystem of continuous memory.

These are the two requirements for having a sense of identity.

And so memory is crucial. Identity could be described as integrating memories, a way of integrating memories. We'll come to it much later, but identity seems to be a technique, a technique for integrating memories into a coherent narrative.

It's as good a definition of identity as I've ever come across. And it assumes implicitly that the memories are there. They're like objects, you know, they're like chairs or like trash bins or like cameras. The memories are there.

And then we have this principle or this technique of arranging them, integrating them, so that they make a coherent sense.

So it's like with our identity, with our personality, we enter the room where we store the memories. We enter the storage of the memories, and we take memory one, memory six, memory nine, memory 15, and we put them together in a story. And that's it. That's our sense of identity.

There are big problems with this view of identity and memory.

First of all, memory is a lot like the object in Alice in Wonderland. The object in Alice in Wonderland never stayed the same. They become smaller, they become bigger, they become smeared. In Alice in Looking Glass, in the Looking Glass, Alice tries to grab a jar of jam. She sees a jar of jam and she tries to grab it. As she tries to grab the jar, it moves to the left. She tries to grab it, it moves to the right. Then it gets smeared, becomes like a smeared jar.

So memories are the same. Memories are not like objects. They are constantly in flux. They are dismantled, created, recreated, restructured, reconstructing, deconstructing. I mean, they are constantly, they are more much, memories are much more like water than like any solid.

That's the first problem.

The second problem, memories never stay in the same location. They are connected intimately with emotions, as we shall see, but that's it. They never stay in the same location. We'll come to that.

The third problem is this technique of taking memories and putting them together in a story that makes sense, this technique that we call identity, has its very strong limitations because it is not the identity that creates the story. It's the story that creates the identity.

Now that's a very bizarre sentence. Think about it. When I enter the storage, the warehouse of memories, when I enter the storage area of memories, and now I want to put these memories together and to create a story that makes sense, that is coherent and makes sense to me, makes sense to me.

By the way, many of these stories make sense, actually most of these stories make sense only to us. When other people hear these stories, these stories don't make sense.

So identity is highly idiosyncratic. It makes sense to us, but very rarely to other people.


Okay, coming back to the topic. So if I enter this warehouse and I see all the memories and say, okay, I'm going to take this memory, that memory, and this memory, I'm going to put them together and make a story.

It's not like I create the story based on the memories that I have.

Actually, what we discovered is that I come with a story. I come with a story and then I take memories that conform to the story, memories that support the story, address it, enhance it, prove it.

The choice of memories is selective in order to conform to the story and make it liveable, make it, you know, real.

Why is that a problem?

First of all, it means that all our memories are selective. Memories that do not fit the story will be suppressed, repressed, ignored, deleted. We will even create false memories to support the story.

That's the first problem.

The second problem, our stories change as we grow up, as we relocate to another environment, as we fall in love, as we have children, as we fight, as we get sick, as we're involved in traumas like accidents, as we become religious, as we become atheists.

I mean, our stories change all the time. They are in flux.

As our stories change, the content of our memory changes because we select different memories to support different stories.

As the stories change, our memories change.

And again, we sometimes rewrite memories completely. We ignore memories, and very often we invent false memories, memories of events and facts that never existed.

So if this is true, everything that I'm saying, and everything I'm saying I will shortly substantiate with information, but if this is true, in which sense do we have memory? And if we don't have memory, and it's not continuous, in which sense do we have identity? And if identity depends crucially on stories, or is a story, or is a technique for constructing stories, and the stories change all the time, that means we don't. There is no such thing as we. There is no such thing as individual. There's no such thing as personality. In other words, what we call personality and identity are merely stories, pieces of fiction, narratives. They don't really exist. They are figments of Western modern philosophy in the last 300 years.

The philosophy that broke up the world into units, the philosophy that is dichotomous, and non-unitary philosophy that regards the universe as totally discrete entities acting on each other, rather than a yarn, a continuity.

So I think psychology, and especially personality psychology, is a figment, an outcome, or even a side effect of modern Western philosophy.

Indeed, in many countries, there is no separate faculty of psychology. You study psychology within the faculty of philosophy, because it's perceived as a branch of philosophy.

The very concept of consciousness studied in depth by William James at the end of the 19th century, the very concept of consciousness is a philosophical concept.

There's always been a philosophical concept. So as philosophy changed, as it became more discrete, more individualistic, more non-unitary, so did psychology.

But it doesn't mean it's true. It means it's a change in language, a change in how we view things, but not a change in the things themselves.

We're very often confused, especially in the West. We're very often confused in language with reality. We tend to believe in the reality of language, or we even tend to believe that reality itself is a language. That's not always true. Or I would even say that in majority cases it's not true.

So today we try to study memory.

Again, before I start, memory is a foundation of identity.

In the absence of continuous memory, there can be no identity, in my view.


The first one to study memory in the typical German experimental mathematical way was Herman Ebbinghaus in 1885.

He discovered the first alarming fact about memory, something we all knew intuitively.

He discovered that we forget about 70% of everything we learn very fast. Everything we are exposed to, every fact, every piece of information, everything we forget within about 24 hours, we forget half, and within a week we forget about 70%.

And that's called the forgetting curve. That is an alarm bell, because it seems that memory tends to fade and therefore cannot be relied on, or is not a constant.

But it was so within human experience, this discovery, that no one paid attention to it.

Yeah, we forget, so what? We all knew. Before Ebbinghaus, we all knew that we forget.

The forgetting curve was just formalizing something we all intuitively were aware of and exposed to since time immemorial.

We all forget, big deal.

In 1890, William James made the observation that there are two types of memory.

There's primary memory, which today we call short-term memory, and secondary memory, which today we call long-term memory.

Short-term and long-term, and it seemed that short-term memory in some metaphysical, mysterious way, alchemical way I would say, is converted into long-term memory.

There was good basis to assume that this is a brain process, that short-term memory is somehow encoded in the brain, maybe via proteins or maybe via neural pathways, the way neurons connect, nerve cells connect in the brain.

At that period, at the end of the 19th century, they didn't quite know how. But they had assumed that it's something in the brain and that somehow short-term memory becomes long-term memory.

Today we know that it has to do with the formation of stable proteins and with the formation of specific neural pathways.

The more you rehearse, the more you repeat a piece of information, the more stable the pathway and the more permanent.

So for example, two plus two is four, can never be erased or deleted from the brain except under extreme pathological conditions such as dementia. But otherwise it is repeated so often and so many times that the pathway is there forever.

But if I tell you that the battle of Hastings was in 1066, you may remember it for the next hour or two, but probably you'll forget it because you are not likely to repeat it or to rehearse it very much. It's not a fact that you come across all the time.

So rehearsal and repetition are crucial in informing the lattice, the neurological lattice and the proteins that support memory.

So by 1890 we knew two things. We knew that the short-term and long-term memory and we knew that about 70% of the short-term memory is lost in the transition to long-term memory.

And Freud came up with an adaptation of Loyola and suggested that some memories are actually not forgotten.

Because before Freud there was only a concept of forgetting. Memories were either there or they were not there. Either you had them or you lost them. Either you remembered or you forgot. It was a dichotomous view.

And Freud said not so. Freud said yes. There were memories that you remember. There are memories that you forgot.

But there's a third type of memory. It's a memory that is repressed. You have it but you don't have access to it. And the repressed memory is pushed down, metaphorically speaking, into the unconscious. That's where there is this gigantic storage area or warehouse of zillions and billions and trillions of memories and they are repressed. And they are repressed because they have negative emotional content. They are traumatic or they're painful or they're frightening and you don't want to experience the fear and the trauma again and again and again.

So what you do, you suppress the memory. You repress it. You push it down.

And he said that a lot of what we call dissociation, a lot of what we call forgetting is actually not forgetting at all but repression.

So now we had three types of memory management.

One, remembering, long-term memory or short-term memory.

Two, forgetting. And the third was repression.

And in 1927, a Russian Jewish scientist, psychologist, she was studying in Berlin but she was Russian. Her name was Bluma Zygarnik.

Bluma Zygarnik proved that the transition from short-term memory to long-term memory, the encoding of long-term memory, whether we remember something for the long-term or not, depends actually less on us and more on our environment.

Now, at the time, it was considered to be a minor discovery. People didn't really understand the implications.

But I think that it was a major unprecedented revolution because until Bluma Zygarnik, all the psychologists, Freud, William James, Ebbinghaus, you name it, everyone who has dealt with memory, dealt with memory as an internal contained process, something that is happening inside us, some brain process, some almost physiological process like digestion that is happening inside us, exclusively inside, and has exclusively to do with who we are, our identity, our personality, our brain, etc.

Bluma Zygarnik showed that environment, the outside, has crucial impact on our ability to process short-term memory into long-term memory.

And what she did, she presented students with information, short-term information. And then she divided them to two groups.

The first group, she interrupted them. She told them to remember. So for example, she gave them a series of numbers and she told them to remember the numbers. But then she interrupted them. She came, she asked them something, she flashed colors. I mean, she interrupted.

And the second group, she let them focus and concentrate without any interruption. To her utter surprise and against all intuition, the students who were interrupted remembered better than the students who were not interrupted. Long-term memory was formed better when the students were interrupted than when they were not interrupted.

And this is the source of school breaks, by the way, as an anecdote. After her studies, we began to introduce breaks in school because break is like an interruption, an interjection. If we interrupt the student in his studies or her studies, she remembers better.

Long-term memory seems to be a kind of safety valve or protective mechanism. When the student is interrupted, she is afraid to lose the memory. So she immediately converts it into long-term memory. So long-term memory is a kind of a safety valve.

And then five years later, Frederick Bartlett discovered that memory is not stable. It is subject to elaboration. We embroider our memories. We add details that never existed. We invent stories and we exaggerate and we enhance and we increase.

And so an ant becomes a molehill. We start with a basic memory and then we add to it to make it funny or to make it attractive. And so embroidering and embellishing or what he called elaboration. And sometimes we have the basic memory, but we want to convey something or to manipulate someone or to convince someone. And then what we do, we confabulate simply. We invent things. We don't realize.

Most people are not liars, but all people are confabulators. All of us add to real memories, unreal, counterfactual, untrue, false information. He discovered that people omit parts of memories, that they distort memories and that they reconstruct memories and so on.

So he said that memory has no objective reality. It is partly knowledge and partly inference.

He said, everyone tries to guess. When you don't remember something clearly or even when you remember clearly, but you're missing some details, you will try to guess these details. You will say, what would have made sense under these conditions?

For example, someone asked you, did you eat yesterday? You say, yes, I ate. I ate. And what did you eat? He said, well, I remember that I ate meat. But then you would feel uncomfortable not remembering what you ate. And you would tell yourself, I never eat meat except if it's with spaghetti. So I must have eaten it with spaghetti. And then you will tell, your answer will be, I ate meat with spaghetti. Of course, the spaghetti part is speculation. You don't remember the spaghetti. You just think it's reasonable that you ate it with spaghetti because you never eat meat without spaghetti.

But it's still a lie, technically speaking. It's false. It's what we call confabulation. Confabulation is when we invent something, not to say lie, in order to bridge a gap in memory.

But we do so in a way that makes sense to us based on previous experience and what we could have done, what we could not have done, what is against our nature, what is with our nature, etc.

The confabulation is very reasonable. It's reasonable speculation.

However, it's still speculation. So it was Frederick Bartlett who first discovered that a part of memory, and in his view a big part of memory, is actually speculation. It's not real. It's false.

But he didn't go further with that.

And then about 15 years later, Gordon A. Alpert and Leo B. Postman discovered that most people, indeed, exactly as Bartlett said, most people report memories such in a way that the big part of the content of the memory is actually unreal, untrue, non-factual.

But they also discovered that most people do it not deliberately. In other words, very small percentage of people are actual, intentional, deliberate liars.

But absolutely all of us, without exception, tell stories, speculate when we are asked questions about the past. We feel uncomfortable admitting that we don't remember and we don't know.

So we confabulate.

This is about the truth content of memory. Memory, and in a minute we'll talk about the seminal work of Elizabeth Loftus, but at this stage by 1947 it was clear that memory is not like a scientific fact. It's not like a mathematical rule. It's not an object. It's not an entity. It's something you can build on, rely on, and assume that it's absolutely 100% true. And it's just there and you fish it out, you recall it, you retrieve it from storage and you can absolutely build a story on it, a narrative, base your identity on it, because it's absolutely true.

But by 1947 it was clear that most memories are untrue, maybe not false, but untrue or partly true, and contain massive elements of inference.

And it makes sense.

And confabulation, outright invention.

But the scope of such confabulation was not realized until a few years later.

At this stage there were the first alarm bells about memory. We began to realize that something is very wrong with memory.

However, by 1947 or 1950, we still didn't dare to make the leap.

If memory is a problem, then everything else in psychology is a problem, because there is no psychology without reliable memory.

When we are in therapy, we need memory. When we talk about our personality, we need memory. Our identity depends on memory.

Interviewers, structured interviews with people, depend on memory. Tasks in psychological experiments depend on memory. Eyewitness testimony in courts depend on memory. Childhood abuse, I mean, there is not a single area of psychology that does not depend heavily on true reporting of memory, mainly of memories.

So no one dared in the 1950s to make this jump and say, wait a minute, if memory is flawed, if we have a serious problem with the very concept of memory, if we cannot trust memory, then we must delete all of psychology and start from zero.

Because what is consciousness without memory? What is trauma without memory? What is personality? What is identity? What is anything without memory? There's nothing there without memory.

But we are still far from this conclusion.

In 1956, a guy by the name of George Armitage Miller discovered that the capacity of our memory, the storage area, the ROM, is limited. If we are exposed to 10 items of memory, we usually will remember four, very well, and another two, so-so.

So he coined the term seven. He said, the limit is seven, seven chunks of memory.

Everyone remembers five, six, seven, or eight, but never more than eight and seven is the usual.

So he said that memory is limited.

Again, in psychology, we are in a state of denial when it comes to memory studies. It is such a sensitive topic. It could undermine and destroy all of psychology.

Consequently, psychologists, scholars are very defensive. They don't dare to go further. They read the new discoveries and they go home. They don't want to think what it means.

But let's think what it means.

If our memory is limited, it also means that it is selective. If we are presented with 10 items of memory and we can remember only the first four, or actually not the first, but four of the 10, who can guarantee that we didn't miss the really important part?

If I give you 10 items of information and you remember only four, or five, or six, or even seven, how do you know that you did not miss the three crucial facts, the three crucial numbers, the three crucial items?

If your memory is selective because it's limited quantitatively, how do you know that it's reliable? How do you know that you're not missing out qualitatively on very critical bits of information?

Well, the answer is you don't know. Absolutely don't know.


And now we were faced with two problems in psychology, in memory.

One, memory did not represent facts or truth or reality. Every time we reconstructed memory, every time we try to retrieve memory or gain access to memory, we invented it, recreated it, we confabulated.

So memory is not like an object, it's not a fact. It's a piece of fiction.

And the second problem is memory is limited, because it's limited, it's selective.

And so Jerome Bruner, another psychologist, a few years later, suggested that what we do is we take the memory and we categorize it.

We create categories and we create like organizational structure. He said that when we create categories and organization, like a tree and or drawers or shelves or any metaphor you wish, when we create this, it's easier for us to remember.

So Bruner said we overcome this limitation of storage by creating linkages, ties between memories.

We say memory A reminds me of memory B and is the very same like memory C, because all three, A, B and C, belong to memories of my childhood, which is a category.

So when we have a category and when we organize memories, it's much easier for us to remember them.

And he was able to demonstrate, he and others were able to demonstrate, that when you categorize memories, facts, when facts make sense, when they are already arranged in a kind of narrative or a storyline or a connecting thread, we remember many more items than four or seven.

Actually there were studies that showed that people remember up to 40 items, four zero items, when these items make some internal sense, when they are somehow connected, again via storyline or via rule, some rule of inference or in any other way, pattern or whatever.

Organization and categorization enhance our ability to remember.

And so by 1960, everyone was more or less happy. Yes, it's true. Memories contain big parts of confabulation and inference, but hey, inference is logical and the confabulation would usually be reasonable.

So memory more or less can be relied on. Confabulation is not totally insane and the inference is not totally unreasonable. So the memory would appear to be commonsensical, reasonable.

Plus it's not true that we are limited to seven items. It's not true that we are that selective.

When we encounter normal situations in daily life, there is a story behind them. There is a connecting thread, there is a rule, there is a pattern. And so we remember much more than seven, remember up to 40.

And that means memory is much less selective than we had taught.

And by 1960, everyone was relaxed about memories.

And then in the 1970s, there was an earthquake. Awareness of child sexual abuse started with Sigmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud described several cases which today would be defined as sexual abuse of children.

And in Vienna with repressed Victorian style sexuality and middle class bourgeoisie values, child abuse was pretty widespread and common, including incest.

So awareness of sexual abuse of children is not new. But in the 1970s, it exploded. And it also had legal ramifications and was the belief that childhood sexual abuse predisposes people to have certain mental health disorders.

Later, for example, borderline personality disorder.

And there were then the first cases of multiple personality disorder, which today we call dissociative identity disorder.

So they began to see in the 1970s, the childhood sexual abuse creates adult creates mental health problems in adults in the when the children grew up. And these mental health problems were considered very severe. And also very exotic, because for example, multiple personality disorder, it was the subject of many movies and so on, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, these are very colorful people. They were dramatic ups and downs and so on.

So it attracted a lot of attention.

In the 1970s, when patients came to therapists, therapists, one of the first thing the therapists tried to do, he tried to find out whether there was any sexual abuse in the in the patient's history.

And they used a technique called recovered memory.

They tried, they tried to help the patient using special keywords and special techniques. They tried to help the patient recall or remember if she had been abused as a child sexually.

And so there was this recovered memory technique.

Recovered memory also used medication, hypnosis, I mean, it was a serious effort.

And many, many, many patients came up with stories of sexual abuse in childhood.

And so it became like a shock was a shockwave.

So many children have been children have been abused in their childhood sexually, it was absolutely shocking.

And you know, there were horrible stories.

In the 1980s, there was a guy Paul Ingram, and he was accused of abusing many of his daughters and, and sort of giving them to his friends to have sex with.

And I mean, the thing became hysterical, as usual, in the United States, every fad, every fashion, becomes a hysteria game hysterical.

And everyone in his dog had a recovered memory of sexual abuse.

Of course, many of these memories were utterly false. You remember, you remember, I hope, that when you don't have a memory, it creates dissonance, you feel very uncomfortable.

When, when someone asks you for a memory, and you cannot produce it, you feel that something's wrong with you, you feel very uncomfortable.

And so many people would confabulate, they simply invent a memory.

They want to please people pleaser, for example, people who like to please other people to please the questionnaire to please a person who asked the question, they will invent a memory, to please the therapist, they will invent a memory, just for the therapist to be happy.

And this is exactly what happened.

Many of these so called recovered memories were actually totally false. It's been proven in many experiments.

And these patients sued the therapist, there were many lawsuits in the 1990s, and they want a lot, they want a lot of money from the therapist.

But the woman who is responsible for exposing memories as false memories is Elizabeth Lufthuss. And Elizabeth Lufthuss started her work in the late 1970s, amid this hysteria that I described.

And the first thing she did was an experiment.

She in 1970, she showed students footage, camera footage of horrible accidents, car accidents. And she asked them to describe the accidents after they had watched the video footage or the camera footage.

And she discovered that depending how she phrased her questions, the memories were different. If she asked the student about the car crash in one way, or if she asked the student about the same car crash, using different words, the memory was different.

That was utterly shocking. It seemed that the content of the memory, what the student remembered, depended crucially on the words she used in her questions.

For example, if she used the word smashed, if she said, did you see how the first car smashed into the second car, the student would exaggerate the speed of the car. Even if the car was not speeding at all, he would say that the car was speeding horribly.

So wording was critical. She also discovered that it was extremely easy for her to introduce false information, non-facts, into the question. And if she introduced these non-facts, these false, these lies into the question, the student would repeat the false information as a memory.

She realized that she is onto something that is utterly, utterly devastating and shocking.

So she continued her experiments.

By now, she knew that memories depend crucially on words, word cues, verbal cues, and on false information introduced during the prompting phase.

She also discovered that she could make suggestions, that people were suggestible. She could hint at the type of answer she wanted, and the people would give her that answer. The students would give her that answer. Even if the answer conflicted with a video, with a movie of the car accident, even if the answer conflicted with what the student actually remembered, the student would claim another memory so as to satisfy Loftus.

So Loftus described that she could affect the memory by suggesting what she wants the student to remember, suggestibility. She also discovered that depending on what happened to the student after the experiment, subsequent experience, the content of the memory changed.

She invited many of these students again and interviewed them after a certain period of time, one week and then a few months and so.

And then she discovered that the memory, their memories changed according to what happened to them, for example if they witnessed a real car accident.

And finally, they discovered that the memory of specific students was affected, the content of the memory was affected by ideas, beliefs, and most importantly, by emotions they had.

If they were unhappy at the time of watching the film or if they were happy, if they were angry, if they were at peace, etc., their emotions had inexplicable, extreme influence on the content of the memory.

Now remember, these students were exposed to a few minutes of film, video of a car accident, which car accident is actually a very, very simple event, so very complex. Car number one bumps into car number two, end of story.

So she was shocked at how such a simple memory could be transformed in so many ways, depending on so many factors, the words she used, hints she made, subsequent experiences, emotions they had, ideas, everything, everything, dozens of factors influenced memory.

Memory was malleable, it was like patty, you could kind of mould it, it was not static, it was not stable, it was not firm, it was not solid, it was in flux, it was again like water, and it was like a door, you could make anything out of it, you could make bread, you could make pretzels, you could make, it was like, so even she was utterly shocked by the results.

She asked herself and then asked the legal community and the community of psychologists, so what's the value of memory? If memory can be affected so easily, if it can change so easily, if it's not monovalent, if it's not the same over a period of time and so on, what's the value?

For example, what's the value of eyewitness testimony in court? What's the value of self-reporting structured interviews? What's in psychology? What's the value of psychotherapy where patients are expected to produce memories in some forms of psychotherapy, that the whole psychotherapy is based on memories, for example, psychoanalysis. What's the value of all, I mean, if memory is not there, if it is utterly shaped by the environment, by external events, by cues, by triggers, and doesn't have its only dependent autonomous existence, immutable, unchangeable, if memory is a story and anyone can write it and rewrite it and whenever they remember, then it's meaningless and everything that's based on it is meaningless, including the concepts of identity, concepts of personality, eyewitness testimony, I mean, you name it.

The entire edifice of the court system and the entire edifice of psychology, especially experimental psychology, but also theoretical psychology crumbles. This is why her work has been denied and rejected and mocked and ridiculed by the entire psychological profession for well over 20 years. They were terrorized by it. They were in state of terror, panic. They refused even to look at her results. They claimed that her methods are wrong and that she got it wrong and today we know she got it absolutely right. Today we know she was a visionary and today we know that brain activity reflects exactly what she predicted and what she had found in her experiments, but at the time, it was too shocking.

In 1995, she was so attacked and so mocked and ridiculed that she felt the need to defend herself and in 1995, she conducted an experiment. It's called the Lost in the Mall experiment.

She took a group of students and she gave each student four memories. One of the four memories was false, never happened and that was a memory of getting lost in the mall, the shopping mall, as a kid. It never happened.

But all students were given this memory and she discovered, I mean, she proved that about one quarter of the students, one fifth to one quarter, depending on the experiment, but about one quarter of the students adopted the false memory and insisted and argued and fought, I mean absolutely claimed that they got lost in the mall.

Even though it was a false memory, invented, they never got lost in the mall. We're not talking about two percent of the students, we're talking about one quarter of them.

So it was very easy to invent the false memory from whole cloth, I mean nothing there, and to convince people that this really happened to them. To the point that they argued with you when she told them, listen, this is a false memory. It never happened. I invented it.

They told them no way. We remember it very vividly and very clearly wrong. It's that bad.

And in 2005, ten years later, Susan Clancy and other psychologists analyzed alien abductions in terms of false memory. There are many, many people, well, thousands of people around the world who claim to have been abducted by extraterrestrials, aliens, taken to the alien spaceships and analyzed there medically or having had sex with the aliens.

They complained, possibly because the quality of the sex was not what they had hoped, but they described these experiences. And Susan Clancy proved that these experiences are the exact equivalent of false memories.

The same false memories that were recovered, quote, unquote, by therapists with sexual abuse victims, which sexual abuse never happened. The same false memories that Loftus gave to her students.

False memory, in other words, is not a marginal, small aberration, sort of fringe aspect of memory. It seems that false memory is the core of memory.

If you agree that most memory, that a lot of memory is confabulated, if you agree that a lot of memory is actually retroactive speculation, and if you then add to it the fact that a lot of the content can be false and that the emotional investment in the false memory is very high, so that people believe it and defend it and insist on it, then the very foundations of memory are at stake.

Psychologist John Ewell and Judith Cutshall, they showed in 1986 that when the event is traumatic, for example, when people witness gun shooting, their memory is imprinted indelibly, imprinted very strongly, and they tend to remember details and so on, and it's automatically long-term memory. It doesn't go through short-term phase.

But we also discovered that if we have a traumatic false memory, for example, sexual abuse, but it's false, it never happened, but it has traumatic content, it has the same effect like real traumatic memory.

In other words, if you actually witness gun shooting, or if you think that you witness gun shooting, it will have the same effect, it will have the same strength, it will appear to you as memory, you will defend it, you will insist on it, you will claim that it's true, you will be adamant about it.

False memory has the same power like real memory, especially when it's traumatic, it's vivid, it's recalled, it's firmly believed in, and people fight to the death to insist that it happened.

And so by, let's say by the mid, by the mid-80s or even the beginning of the 80s, memory began to look like a very, very shaky thing.

Part of it was confabulation and inventing, part of it was false, we could not tell the difference, in many cases we could not tell the difference between false memory and real memory, it was easy to manipulate us and convince us to generate false memories or to believe in false memories, etc.

The picture was bleak, it looked like memory was in trouble.

And to add to the trouble, Gordon Bauer in 1981 demonstrated, demonstrated conclusively that what you remember is critically affected by your mood at the time of the event.

So, for example, if you are unhappy, when you are unhappy, you will remember only negative things, you will not remember the positive things, when you are happy, when you receive good news or whatever, you remember positive things, but you will not remember negative things.

And even worse, when you recall, the point of recall, the point of retrieving memories, when you are happy, you will remember only positive things. And when you are unhappy, you remember only negative things.


So, first of all, when you make memories, and when you store them, and second, when you access memory and you retrieve them, both operations are critically, crucially influenced by your mood at the moment you create the memory, and at the moment you retrieve the memory.

Your mood determines what you remember.

But of course, moods change. Memory is supposed not to change. It's supposed to be immutable, unchangeable. But wait a minute, if it is influenced by something like mood, what can we trust about memory? Almost nothing.

And there is also a very big problem with the term memory, with the word.

So, to summarize the first part of the lecture, it seems that memories are not like Encyclopedia. They are not out there on the shelf. You just have to pick up the right volume and open in the right entry and get all the information you need.

It seems that memories change all the time, are affected by mood, by environment, by verbal cues. Many memories are false and yet you believe they are true. It's easy to influence you to create false memories or to believe in false memories.

Memories, even if they are not false, involve a lot of speculation, a lot of inference, and a lot of confabulation.

So, memories are not like encyclopedia. They are much more like an online entry in Wikipedia. It's an entry that everyone can edit, so every day it changes.

Because thousands of people edit the same entry, you cannot come back to the same entry in Wikipedia every day.

Our memory is not like the Encyclopedia Britannica, which is the same everywhere in the world and, you know, same text. But our memory is more like Wikipedia. It changes every single day according to external influences.

And then there's the question of the word itself. When we say memory, what do we mean?

For example, two plus two is four. To have said it, I needed to remember it. It's a memory. I didn't like the food in this and this restaurant. To have said it, I must remember it.

But this is the same type of memory. Two plus two is four, and the food in this restaurant was bad. Is it the same type of memory? Or is it the same type of memory, like when I was a kid, I almost drowned in the sea? Or is it the same type of memory, like I know how to sew a button?

All these are memories. I drowned in the sea when I was a kid. I just ate bad food in a restaurant. Two plus two is four, and I know how to sew a button. All these are memories.

But is it okay to use the word memory to describe all these things? What on earth do they have in common? Two plus two is four has nothing in common with my memory of drowning in the sea. And sewing a button has nothing in common with the quality of food in any restaurant.

So why do we call all these things memory?


Andil Talving in 1972 suggested that it's wrong to use the word memory for all these things. He said that we should distinguish between episodic and semantic memory.

Episodic memory is memory about events, shall we say, autobiographical memory, memory about what happened to us and the circumstances surrounding what happened to us. That's episodic, episodes.

And then semantic memory is the memory of facts, memory of facts.

But of course later we added a third type of memory, procedural memory.

Procedural memory is how to do things, how to sew a button, how to surf online, and how to shoot this interview. This is procedural memory.

So we have at least three types of memory, probably many more, but at least three types. Episodic, semantic, and procedural.

And Talving discovered that episodic memory is triggered by time, location, and other associations and triggers.

You remember how we opened the lecture? With remembrance of things passed.

The protagonist passes next to a house and smells the freshly baked modeling cookies. The smell is the trigger, provokes the hero of the book, provokes him to remember.

So episodic memory, memory about events in our lives and the circumstances that surrounded them, depend on triggers.

And there are many, many such triggers, sensory cues, including sensory cues.

So Talvig said that in a way, memory was a triggered time travel. I disagree with this metaphor. I disagree with this metaphor because time travel is a physical concept.

Concepts in physics. If you travel in time, you are likely to go back to a period where all the facts are facts. Everything you see, you see. Things don't change according to your mood or to your mood.

So time travel implies some objective reality to which you travel.

But of course, memory is not objective, nor is it reality. We cannot travel back. There's nothing to travel back to. Memory is not there like an encyclopedia that you can access.

Every time you remember what you do, what you're doing is you're writing a story. And every time it's a new story. And every time the content of memory changes.

So you can't travel back in time because there's no destination. There's no memory.

So I disagree with him on this.

But where I agree with him, and I think Freud would have agreed with him, is he said, listen, we have many memories. They're all accessible in principle. They all can be accessed. But they're not all available.

For an accessible memory, for a memory that's there and can be accessed, to become available, we need a trigger.

What the trigger does, it converts accessible memories to available memories.

For example, I probably remember many things about the home I grew up in childhood. I grew up in a home. And I probably remember many things. I remember smells and colors and spatial arrangement and furniture and objects and events that happened in that home.

But if you ask me now to remember actively, I can't. It's buried somewhere.

But if you give me a smell, or if I see something, this cue, sensory cue, can provoke me to remember.

Then the memory that was there, buried, accessible in principle, becomes available because of the sensory cue. Sensory cue is like a key. It opens the door, and then you can enter and visit the buried memory.

And that's very much what Freud said about the unconscious. And he described a process of repression and then making the memories conscious and even reaction to such process, called abreaction.

So Talvings encoding specificity principle, all memories, most memories are there, but they cannot be accessed. They're not available. They can be accessed, but they're not available.

And one way we can make accessible memories available is via hypnosis. In hypnotherapy, we make accessible memories available.

And Talvings used a technique which is very much like associations, Freud's and Jung's association technique. He called it free recall. He used words and he gave the patient words, and then the patient gave back other words, and so he unraveled the memory. And that's called free recall. He discovered that memories are stored in categories, exactly what was suggested much earlier by Bruner. He said that it's in categories, and if you deal with the categories, if you deal with the organizational units, you are much more likely to reach the memories.

In other words, categories themselves are triggers. You can use the category, the way the memory was stored, on which shelf, in which tin box, in which jar, in which container. You can use the container as the trigger.

And he discovered that if you use categories, you obtain much more than in any other way.

And finally, there was distinction between explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory is memory that is there, implicit is memory that is buried.

So again, all these distinctions between accessible and available, implicit and explicit, these are merely, in my view, the renaming of Freud's conscious and unconscious memories. I don't see anything new in any of these so-called contributions.

Let's take a methodical break in view of this knowledge that we now have about memory.

What would be identity? How can we define identity?

You remember before we started our voyage, before I described to you how badly corrupted and unreliable memory is, we said that our identity is our memory. If we take away the memories, there's no identity.

And if we want to construct an identity, it can be constructed only based on memory.

But I just showed you through the work of many psychologists and experiments that memories are corrupted. They're false, many of them, and they're unreliable. They're influenced by mood, verbal cues, million things. They change all the time. They're in flux.

How can you build something that is stable like identity?

Because identity needs to be stable. If you feel that you are you, this feeling must be maintained and must be sustained and must never waver and must never be doubted. Identity must be solid, rock solid.

How can you build a rock solid building on such a shaky, sandy foundation?

If memory is shape-shifting, ever moving, if memory is liquid, how can you build a building on it, a building of identity?

So, I suggest to consider my definition of identity.

I don't think identity is an entity. I don't think there's such a thing as rock solid identity. I don't think we have a core. I don't think we have a nucleus.

The feeling that we have that we exist is one thing and it has nothing to do with identity.

I think our identity is a principle, organizing principle, a technique, kind of algorithm, kind of program, software program, application which tells us how to integrate, accommodate memories in a way which will yield a story, a story that we and others will be able to accept as reasonable, plausible, possible.

So again, identity is not something that exists inside us.

If a surgeon opens you up, he will not find your identity. There's nothing there. There's no core, immutable, unchangeable core.

I don't think so.

I think identity is an algorithmic program that takes as input memories and gives as output a movie, a story.

Now, obviously, the memories can change, so the story changes.

In other words, identity is exactly like memories. It is in flux. It is fluid. It is flexible, transient, moving, shape shifting, kaleidoscopic.

Our identity is not who we are. It's the story we tell ourselves and others about who we are.

Because it's a story, it's constantly written, rewritten, invented and reinvented in accordance with the ever shifting content of our memory.

It's a perfect match. Our identity and our memories are in constant transformation, in constant evolution. They change all the time because we change all the time.

We grow up. We go through phases in the lifespan. We react to different environments. We adopt different professions. We fall in love with other people. We fall out of love. We have children.

Life is about change. Life throws at us, curveballs, surprises us all the time.

Life challenges us. As life modifies itself as it is in flux, we need constantly to change our identity and its components and its ingredients and the ingredients of memories. We adapt our memories to feel good with our identity, to feel compatible.

We create ego-syntony.

So what happens is this. The environment changes and we change. As the environment changes and we change our emotions, our cognitions, our knowledge, our vocations, avocations, all around us, as all these changes happen, we also modify who we are. We modify our identity.

Heraclitus, the famous Greek philosopher, said, pantare, everything flows all the time. He said, you can never enter the same river twice.

We had a Newtonian view of ourselves. We regarded ourselves as objects and objects never change.

Sam is Sam is Sam. Sam has always been Sam. He is Sam and he will always be Sam.

But Sam is not an object. He is a river. Sam of two years ago is not the same person of Sam as Sam today. And Sam two years from now will not be the same person.

When I say will not be the same person, I mean it. Will not be the same person. Not that there will be a lot left in common. I'm talking about total reinvention.

Now we don't feel it. Why we don't feel it? Why do we feel that we have a constant identity across the lifespan?

Because the change is very gradual, very, very, very slow and very incremental.

It reminds me of our skin. All the cells in the skin change every seven to ten years. Every seven to ten years we have a totally new skin, the upper layer only. Totally new skin.

But we don't feel that it's a totally new skin because we don't change like a snake the entire skin immediately. But we change cell by cell by cell by cell by cell.

Finally after seven years we have a totally new skin.

But it doesn't feel like a new skin. Feels like the same old skin.

It's the same with our personality. The same with our identity. We change it cell by cell by cell by cell.

And to accommodate the changes in identity and personality that are needed in order to survive in a changing environment, also change our memories.

In other words, what I'm proposing is pretty revolutionary.

Until now, all the scholars of memory said that the memory comes first.

There is memory, and according to the content of our memory we invent or we create our identity and our own personality.

I suggest exactly the opposite. I suggest that we are modifying our personality and our identity to fit our changing environment.

And because we have to modify our identity in order to survive, we also have to modify our memories.

We first modify our identity then we modify our memories to be compatible with our new identity.

We first write a new story about who we are. We first create a new script. We first create a new storyline. A confabulation of who we are.

And then we select the memories that we can use. We modify them. We invent false memories.

This is the new memory foundation of our new identity.

Exactly opposite what psychology is saying today.

Today if you read textbooks, they will tell you that the memories create the identity.

I think exactly the opposite. The identity creates the memories. Identity influences the memories, changes their content, falsifies them, speculates, creates confabulations.

We first change then we change our memories to conform to support our new identity.

And so there were some psychologists who said that it is possible to create unchangeable memories, immutable.

Roger Brown came up with the concept of flesh bulb memory. He said that if there is a traumatic event in the environment, for example the assassination of John F. Kennedy or 9-11, the destruction of the Twin Towers by Al Qaeda in New York, so he said that in such cases, in such massive collective trauma we create a memory and that memory is stable, never changes, never affected and will always be part of our identity in any future story we write.

So if I ask you where have you been in 9-11 you will remember. I remember for example that when 9-11 happened I was opening the television and I saw the Twin Towers collapse and I remember everything vividly.

We had a guest, she was from Denmark, I remember everything, every single thing.

Even I remember that there were plates with snacks on the table from the previous night. I remember many details which usually I would not have remembered.

And Roger Brown, a psychologist claims that these memories, flesh bulb memories, are not changeable. They are solid and stable.

And as you see it's possible to create stable memories if the emotional trauma is strong enough.

Later other psychologists like Ulrich Nyser and others said that it is not true that the flesh bulb memory is stable because of the traumatic event but they are stable because they are repeated very often like 2 plus 2 is 4.

I keep telling people about what happened, what I remember when I was exposed to 9-11 for the first time.

Because I kept telling this story a million times it became stable.

Nyser says it's not because of the emotional resonance of the trauma but it's because I repeated it a lot.

Maybe. I don't think so.

I disagree with Nyser because every time we repeat a memory we tend to alter it. We tend to change it a little.

And usually it's not the case with flesh bulb memories.

But this leads us to the last scholar and probably the biggest of them together with Elizabeth Loftus and that's Daniel Schacter.

Daniel Schacter discovered the 6 sins of memory. He said that there are errors, there are mistakes in storing memory because the memory is limited and because very often we don't pay attention or we have conflicting emotions to the memory.

So for example, happy, good thing happens, but we are unhappy. So he said there are many errors in storing memories.

Because there are such errors sometimes we delete important memories and we keep the trivial memories, the unimportant memories.

This creates a disbalance, imbalance, a symmetry in memory storage.

And he said there are even bigger issues with retrieving the memory, getting the memory out of storage.

He says there are 7 sins, we call it 7 sins, 7 mistakes.

The first one is that episodic memory, memory of events is very transient.

As time passes it fades and also when we record it, when we take it out of memory we tend to change it.

The very act of retrieving memory, very act of taking it out of storage changes it.

So episodic memory is not reliable.

It then suggested that we are most of the time absent minded. We have attention span problems and we don't remember, we don't pay attention.

So absent mindedness creates to miscarriage and misclassification of information.

And then he said that sometimes we block memories, sometimes we misattribute memories, we remember memory but we wrongly remember the source of the memory.

We are very suggestible as Loftus discovered. Verbal cues, leading questions can change our memory.

We have bias, our opinions, our feelings, our ideas, our beliefs, affect memory.

And sometimes memories are persistent. They intrude on our mind time and again and so we tend to kind of ignore them, deny them, suppress them and so on and so forth.

He compared the brain to a computer and that is a metaphor that is common today.

After the cognitive revolution, after World War II, there was a rejection of behaviorism by psychologists and they came up with a cognitive school.

The belief that the brain can be profitably compared to a computer.

Every generation compares the brain to the current technology. The brain has been compared to the Jacquard loom, the loom which is used to weave fabric, all kinds of fabrics. The brain has been compared to a typewriter.

So every generation has been compared to a telegraph network, to a telephone network.

So the brain has always been compared to the current technology.

So it's normal for the brain to be compared to a computer.

Is the comparison accurate? Absolutely not.

Does it teach us anything? I doubt it very much.

On the contrary, I think comparing the brain to a computer obscures critical issues and obfuscates and misleads us in very meaningful ways.


Consider for example the computer's memory.

Unless you erase or change the computer's memory, it is stable. It's not volatile. It's not labile. It's there and it's always there and it's monovalent and it's unchangeable, immutable and so on.

Our memory is not like that.

So I think comparison to a computer is a big mistake and a very misleading metaphor.

But that's the current comparison.

Using, leveraging this metaphor, I would ask what is the computer's identity?

Imagine that computers were sentient. Imagine that computers were conscious. Would they have developed an identity? An artificial intelligence entity 20 years from now, when this entity, a robot, an android, 20 years from now, would this entity be able to mislead us to think that it is human? Yes. The entity, artificial intelligence entity would pass the Turing test. It would be able to convince us that it's human.

But will it have a sense of identity? If we create a perfect robot, a robot that looks like a human being, smells like a human being, talks like a human being, claims to feel and to think like a human being, has memories, writes poetry, even has sex, imagine.

We create a perfect robot. Will this robot have a sense of identity? Not a sense of existence. A robot, to achieve these things, a robot must have introspection. A robot must have a picture of the world, a view of the world, which includes the robot itself.

So an advanced robot with artificial intelligence will have a sense of existence, like Hal 9000 in Space Odyssey, the movie.

So all future robots with artificial intelligence will have a sense that they exist and will have a sense of their place in the world and will have a sense of how they are acting on the world and how the world is acting on them.

This will allow them to move, to interact, to talk, to communicate, etc.

But it's not the same sense of existence and sense of your place in the world. It's not the same like sense of identity.

Will these robots have a sense of identity? I don't know. And I don't think actually they will have a sense of identity. And I will try to explain why.

A sense of identity depends on fluid memory. Exactly opposite what psychology is teaching us.

Psychology is teaching us that to have a sense of identity you must have clear, demarcated, unchangeable, solid, fact-based memories. Only if you have memories that you can trust, only then you can develop an identity.

I think exactly the opposite. I think identity is an algorithm, a program that we have because our memories are unreliable, because our memories are fluid, because our memories are confabulated, because we cannot trust our memories.

We need this program to take our memories and make sense out of our memories. We need a sense of identity that changes all the time in reaction to the environment and is able to make use of fluid, non-fixed, non-solid, totally changing memories.

Robots cannot have changing memory. Their memories will be fixed forever. Even if they perfectly emulate and imitate human beings, they will have to rely on fixed immutable memory.

I think because of that they will not have the need to develop an identity or a sense of identity. Their memories will be their identity.

If a memory is unchanged, if the sum total of memories is unchanged, then this is the identity.

You don't need any other sense of identity. You don't need a mechanism to process memories because the memories never change.

You need a mechanism to process memory, which is identity.

You need such a mechanism only if the memories change all the time.

Then to cope with this in order to survive, you need to process these changes within a coherent story line, framework and narrative, which is our identity.

Our identity is because we are fuzzy. There is a whole branch of logic called fuzzy logic. There is a branch of programming called fuzzy neural networks. These are neural networks which have ever shifting memory and ever shifting configurations. They're not stable. They're not fixed.

We are fuzzy creatures. It is precisely because we are not precise, that we are adaptable.

Humankind became the dominant species on the planet because it does not have fixed memory, because it is not programmed like a tiger or a virus, because it is adaptable and changeable and in flux.

Human beings survived and became the dominant species on the planet because they can lie, confabulate, invent.

Human beings survive because of their false memories, because of the speculation, because of the inference, the day that human memory is fixated, that day the species will die.

Our environment is not stable, is never fixed, always changes. Everything in us, all our faculties should be the same, our cognition, our emotions, and above all, our memory and the identity and personality that go with it.

God forbid that we should become computers or robots. That day we will be annihilated.

We must always invent our world, internal and external. We must always be creative, innovative and inventive, because these are the demands of the world we live in.

It is precisely this, our ambiguity, our equivocation, our ambivalence, our fuzziness, precisely this that made us victorious and triumphant over entire nature.

Our flexibility and our ability to lie, to deviate from truth and facts by fantasizing, by imagining, by inventing, by confabulating, fiction, science fiction, science fact, all these are imaginations.

We first invent the world in our mind. We first create a fictitious world and then we translate it.

This camera was first conceived in the mind, not in reality, and then it became an object.

So we need this and our memories need to be changeable and flexible so as to support a story, a sense of identity, which will allow us to experiment with the world without risk within our mind.

We need to experiment with the world but other species have to experiment with the real world and if they get it wrong they die.

We are the only species which can experiment inside the mind because our mind is not fixed, it's not rigid, it's malleable, it's permeable, it's changeable, it's ethereal and this is our main advantage, evolutionary advantage.

So our identity, our memories change all the time. Our identity is an algorithm to generate stories.

Once we have the story we select the memories we need. If they don't fit exactly we change them. If we don't have them we invent them.

The story is the important thing, not what really happened.

Thank you and see you next time.

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