You cannot trust your own perceptions

Last week I asked if anyone had any burning facts they wish they could magically teleport into everyone’s brains. One reader suggested this, and they’re absolutely right about it.

“The really hard-to-internalize knowledge I wish people had is just you cannot trust your own perception. Study after study have shown that no, your memory isn’t reliable. Your anecdotal evidence doesn’t hold up. A quick google search found this, which basically summarizes the whole concept: https://markmanson.net/trust

That Black Mirror episode where everything is recorded would, contrary to whatever point they were trying to make, vastly improve the world IMO. No longer would we have those “no I swear you had the keys last” arguments, and of course there are much broader contexts also.

The issue with this stance, of course, is that there’s a percentage of the population who don’t trust their own perspective enough, which opens up a path to abuse. Alas.”

I (McKinley) went to a super-interesting lecture on forensic psychology, which deals with some of this stuff – the unreliability of memory. At the beginning, they showed us some footage of a ‘suspect’, and at the end, we had to pick him up out of a line-up. I wasn’t totally sure, but I picked the guy I thought looked the most like my memory.

And that was exactly the problem. None of the men in the line-up were the one from the footage, but the one who looked most like him got accused. They don’t do line-ups like this anymore (or they shouldn’t). You see each candidate once, and once only, and you have to say Yes or No. You can’t say “hmmm, let me get another look at number 6”. Either you recognise the guy or you don’t. And you’re not told how many people will be in the line-up, so you don’t select the last guy out of desperation.

There’s other things like – no one in the room should know who the suspect is. Even if they’re not corrupt, they won’t be able to stop their body language very slightly indicating more anticipation or interest, and the witness won’t be able to help picking up on it. The worst bit is, neither party will realise there was any influence. The witness will just think “I had a sense about that one”.

(In some ways this is a tribute to how incredibly observant humans are – we can pick up on the tiniest cues and synthesise them into what we call intuition. That intuition is not magic, it comes from real, but very subtle observations. But yeah it’s a goddamn mess when it comes to forensics.)

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