Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ch 10- how do we know what actually happened in the past?

I just read chapter 10 today and as I was reading pages 171-172, the part about how what determines what the past is caught my interest and got me thinking about an article I just read for my psych class. On page 172 Le Poidevin says that, "Statements about the past are true only in virtue of facts about present evidence." The evidence that he refers to would be records and memories. Records seem to be a pretty solid way of determining what happened as long as they are not altered, but memories are not as reliable. In the article I read it discussed how your memory can play tricks on you. When given a list of words that were all closely related to sleep, but without sleep actually being a word, the participants of the study said they remembered seeing or hearing the word sleep more than half of the time. This shows that your memory is not completely reliable. Also, when there are multiple eye witnesses of a crime or some event, there are usually a number of very different acounts of what happened based on the witnesses' own personal experiences in life. So, how can we be sure of what actually happened in the past?

9 Comments:

Blogger mparent said...

The short answer is that we can't ever really know for sure what happened in the past. There are many that feel that most repressed memories are not actually repressed memories at all but are actually fabricated as a result of the therapy. The best way to determine what happened in the past is probably through examining physical clues left behind but that often doesn't leave enough information behind. If a group of people agree that something happened that they were all present for then it is likely that it happened. However, the group of people may be influencing each other slightly into believing things that never happened.
I think it's difficult to know fine details about what happened because our memories and physical evidence generally aren't very good for determining that kind of detailed information. General things like going to an amusement park are probably pretty accurate memories though.

3:26 PM  
Blogger The Hulk said...

You can never really tell what happened in the past, because in truth, the past was written by the victorious. The people who won wars or battles, wrote what they wanted and that became the "past." So we can never really be sure what happened in the past, because it can be swayed. For example, in the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown says that Jesus could have been married to Mary Magdalene, but because of the crusades, and the victory of the Christians, they rewrote all the texts with Jesus marrying Mary, to Jesus not being married. The only way to know for sure is get a time machine, but we're not going to delve into that discussion

3:04 PM  
Blogger mparent said...

Although I agree with what The Hulk says I would like to give a word of caution, especially when it comes to the DaVinci code. The author states in the beginning of the book that it is not historically accurate but many people take it at its word. Although what it says MAY be true, much of the book is not based on evidence as the author has misled many to believe. This goes for other things as well.
However, not all our evidence of the past comes from the written word of the era. Much of our knowledge comes from physical evidence of the past. We have found towns, pottery, memorials, etc... that tell us what happened with no written record whatsoever.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Hawaii said...

Personally, I think that this is a good point. Mostly because it allows us to disprove the reality of the past. Here's something to think about (not valid I don't think, just for thought):

1) We have only experienced one past. (Eh...test the last second of your existence. Compare it to someone else's. Similar no?)

2) The only things that exist of the past are memories. (Objects of the past are present objects. Past objects don't exist anymore.)

3) A problem with memory is that it allows for multiple, conflicting pasts. Theories of the origin of earth are good examples. Origins of life...etc etc. They're all theories that are (now) impossible to prove.

4) Well you can't have more than one past, but because there is the possibility that there were multiple pasts, we have a problem.

5) Therefore, we have a paradox about the past. And the past can't exist.

Just thought it was an interesting property of time cones and memory.

Thoughts?

8:03 PM  
Blogger mparent said...

I don't think this arguments leads to a contradiction of actually having multiple pasts. It simply states that there are multiple pasts that may fit the evidence provided by memories. Suppose you're sitting at your desk tomorrow. Then you could have gotten there by walking through the door or by teleporting in. Does this mean that you actually did both of them because we can decide that both are possibilities due to a lack of evidence. Similarly the multiple creation theories are around due to lack of evidence, not false memories. No onw around has memories of creation and so we must rely on physical evidence to determine what happened.
Also, although the objects now are present objects that does not mean that they are not affected by what happened in the past. If i throw a ball across the room then there is evidence that this action occurred, namely that the ball is now across the room. Although the ball in its current state only belongs to the present it does tell us something about how it got to its present state.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Kermit said...

If you think about it, the past is not the only thing that we are unsure of. You could question things in the present as well. For instance, you think you are sitting at your computer right now. But, you could be dreaming and you are really in your bed. In the Da Vinci Code, Sophie has been unsure of the present her whole life because she doesn't know who she really is. The uncertainty of the past causes the present to be uncertain as well. We only know what we know based on assumptions.

1:45 PM  
Blogger stet200 said...

Another example that really examines the problem of whether we know what has happened in the future and in the past is the movie the Matrix. In the movie these people's minds are but in to a reality that is not there own. There are made to believe that they are in created world that doesnt exist, while really machines have "enslaved" them. Most dont know that the world they are living in is just in there minds. Therefore, they do not really know what is really going on in the past or present.

10:17 AM  
Blogger PVMunchy said...

Today in class we voted on the question are space and time just constructions of our minds and i was one of the no votes, but i didn't have much reason to think that. Now that i think of the Matrix, it seems more possible that space and time can just be constructions of our minds. I'm not saying that we are all plugged into something like in the Matrix, but maybe our souls are all just making up this space and time stuff for us to go through certain experiences.

11:35 AM  
Blogger ewolf335 said...

i think the answer to this question is relative. it all depends on how far in the past you want to go, and where in the past you are referring to. let's say you want to know exactly what happened in the last 24 hours at the desk of a bank teller. One can simply whip out a videotape recording of it since that area of the bank is always moniotred, and voila! you have exactly what happened in the past. people don't seem to use this idea because it's too simple but it works. you have a problem if you want to go back to the 1700's or so. in cases like that it isnt possible. in most cases it isnt possible, but for some there is a chance. thus, there is no single straightforward answer to this question.

12:57 PM  

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