Argument # 6: The memory malleability argument to dismiss anecdotal evidence.
Stated as: “Memory is malleable and unreliable. The mind often fabricates memories and/or edits them. Therefore, memory is not reliable evidence for paranormal claims.”
A similar skeptical tactic to try to further discredit anecdotal evidence (covered above in Argument # 5) is to attack the reliability of people’s memory. Skeptics argue that since memory is malleable, then the memory of paranormal experiencers is unreliable and therefore not to be trusted as valid evidence. This is related to the concept of False Memory Syndrome. Skeptics also try to justify it by using Occam’s Razor, claiming that inaccurate memory is a more probable and simpler explanation than any paranormal one. However, two significant problems with this argument reveal that is not only weak, but inapplicable as well, making it one of the least convincing of the skeptical arguments.
1) The main problem with this is that although memory isn’t perfect and doesn’t work like a tape recorder, the majority of what sane people remember IS reliable and can be checked out and verified. (See Argument # 5) This is easily demonstrable. I could make a long list of things I did yesterday, last week, or even last year. And I could also make a long list of events that happened from yesterday to years ago. The vast majority of these things (I would bet over 95 percent of them) could easily be verified by other people, records/receipts, news articles of the events, etc. No one of course remembers every detail of every second of their life, but what we DO remember tends to be accurate and can be verified. This simple fact is severely damaging to the false memory dogma of this argument. Of course, there are bound to be a few details that are fuzzy that I may not remember correctly, but these are addressed in the second point below.
2) Where memory tends to be unreliable the most is in the area involving details that the brain considers too insignificant to remember (which is the category that most things go into such as the colors of the cars you saw on the way to work this morning, number of steps on a staircase, etc.). Thousands of details we perceive everyday which our minds consider useless and insignificant are discarded. Unfortunately for skeptics and debunkers, paranormal experiences don’t fit into this category because they tend to be significant, shocking, and revealing. As we all know, significant life-altering events in our lives make the biggest impression in our memory and tend to be remembered immediately with clarity, not years afterward. Since paranormal/psychic experiences belong in this category, this further damages this already weak argument even more. In fact, people describing shocking or traumatic events from long ago tend to say, “It was years ago, but I can still see it as if it were happening right now.” These memories are often the same way years later as they were the day they occurred. This means that the memory is consistent and reliable. It’s not like I just thought of an event from years ago that made no impression on me back then and suddenly realize upon reflection that it was paranormal! Therefore memories of paranormal events are not likely to be created by memory malleability. Such was demonstrated in my own case when a psychic who sensed from my “vibrations” that there was a tragic period in my life when I was 9 years old. When a skeptic challenged the reliability of my memory of it, which only occurred a year and a half ago, I easily met his challenge by showing him a post I wrote up about it the day after it occurred, which contained the SAME details that I remember now. (it’s ironic these days when science and technology helps us prove skeptics wrong!)
Therefore, based on the two points above, the memory malleability argument is not only too weak to use to dismiss significant paranormal claims but also inadequate and inapplicable as well.