Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Imagining my son's memory

I want to understand how my son thinks, including how he remembers things. I think I can use that knowledge to help him be the best he can be. If I understood his mind, for example, I might be table to distinguish his memories from inventions and deceptions.

This kind of understanding isn’t easy. Not everyone thinks alike. Some “normal" people seem to think with visual images, other people, like me, do almost no visualization. Understanding the normal mind is hard, but my son’s mind runs on extra-buggy wetware. It’s even harder to model.

One clue comes from self-reports of people like Temple Grandin, an autistic adult and self-described intensely visual thinker. She writes about accessing ‘filmstrips’ to retrieve event data. Alas, my son’s mind, as best he can report, doesn’t work that way. [1]

Whether he visualizes or not I question the reliability of his memory. It’s not only that he has a hard time learning new things, he also seems to genuinely believe many things that are not true. These are generally plausible and self-consistent things that he would wish were true, but we know they are unfounded. I wonder if a fragmented memory architecture means that he is particularly vulnerable to the kinds of invented memories that are relatively easy to create in many adults. Maybe having a visual memory makes one particularly prone to invention of memories by visualization?

My experience with his memory, incidentally, fits with stories of low IQ adults who, under police interrogation, confess to crimes they didn’t commit. It’s easy to imagine him creating new memories out of suggestions.

- fn -

[1] It’s not easy to get him to try cognitive exercises (he suspects I have an ulterior motive, like, for example, changing his behavior), but I’ll try to get him to do the “window exercise” (count number of windows on one’s home, supposedly easiest for visualizers).

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