Thursday, January 19, 2006

Memory and plagiarism

The other day on a forum I frequent, a poster (P) told an anecdote about having heard someone calling a child "Tar, Tar" and discovering to her horror that the child was called Tarzan. P told this as though it was her own experience.

Then another poster pointed out that this was a funny anecdote told by Maureen Lipman.

So, did P plagiarise Lipman's joke knowingly or unknowingly?

One might jump to the conclusion that it was deliberate, but I am not sure it's as cut and dried as that.

It reminds me of reading a story in a newspaper's letters page some time ago, where someone was writing about an experience on a train where a couple had had sex in the compartment she/he was in, and no-one had complained until they lit up a post-coital cigarette: "Ahem, this is a no-smoking train." All very shocking and hilarious. 8)

But much better as told by Victoria Wood in one of her stand-up routines.

So was this letter-writer taking the michael out of the paper by seeing if they would publish a Victoria Wood joke as fact? * Could it be that the person had heard the anecdote and wrote in as though it was fact, because they had forgotten its source, or it had been relayed to them as fact by someone? Or was it a false memory?

It might seem that it has to be a deliberate hoax or knowing plagiarism, but may it also be possible that the person genuinely thinks they remember this happening?

"Despite how clearly you might recall something, you are don't have an accurate taping device in your head. Human memory is geared toward remembering patterns. When we get new information about a particular kind of pattern, then that data is spread throught our memories that our brain deems as matching the pattern. Hence, the memory is modified by new information.

When you recall something, your brain brings up the fragments that are stored about the events, and then fill in the missing bits with guesses that match the pattern. So your memories are mixtures accurate recollections and fictions your brain adds in. As memories age, they become increasingly fictionalized."

This rings true to me, because I know I had this memory of my gran scrubbing my neck with Ajax as a child. But I have come to the belief that this is a corrupted amalgam of several different memories. My neck was persistently dirty as a kid, cos I wouldn't wash it and it became a battle ground between my mum and I. She remembers forcibly scrubbing my neck with Persil. At around the same age, I used to go to my gran's regularly and she would get me to help with housework (which my mum never bothered with making me do, as I think I was a stroppy little bugger and she had working-mother guilt that made her reluctant to waste too much of our time together fighting). So anyway, gran used to get me to clean their bath with Ajax. It was a terrible old bath, with these blue stains, I recall, that nothing seemed to shift, but I think they did fade under Ajax. So here are the separate parts of a messed up memory.

I think gran got the "evil" role because of our strained relationship. 'Course, it is possible that I was polished with powdered Ajax, but I think it unlikely.

It's no wonder I hate having my neck touched, tho. :D

*If, of course, I am remembering this correctly and Wood was the original source. Makes me wonder. :D

No comments: