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Adding Memory

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We start this section off with a question from writer Andrei Codrescu: "where do computers get their extra memory from?" And then we take it literally. Can you add memories? Dr. Elizabeth Loftus says yes. She’s a psychologist in the department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California at Irvine, and her research shows that you can implant memories -- wholly false memories -- pretty easily into the brains of humans. Her work challenges the reliability of eye-witness testimony, and is so controversial that she once had to call the bomb squad. Then, producer Neda Pourang brings us the story of finding a lost memory. Painter Joe Andoe incessantly paints huge canvasses of seemingly random images: horses, pastures, and -- more recently -- a girl with a particular about-to-say-something look on her face. He didn't realize until recently that he'd been painting a day from his past, a fragment of an afternoon 30 years earlier.

Copyright Joe Andoe, 2002
Copyright Joe Andoe, 1999
Copyright Joe Andoe, 2003
Copyright Joe Andoe, 2004
Copyright Joe Andoe, 1991


Painter Joe Andoe, Andrei Codrescu, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Neda Pourang

Comments [26]

Sarah from Chicago

Elizabeth Loftus is famous for "proving" that false memories can be implanted, but everyone seems to overlook the fact that she was successful only 25% of the time. It didn't work in seventy-five per cent of her subjects. So the statement "you can implant 'wholly false memories' pretty easily into the brains of humans" isn't accurate.

I had big problems with this segment. First of all, Jad (sorry, spelling) used a mocking and taunting tone to imitate people who claimed to have recovered memories of Satanic abuse.

Second, he says that people who don't agree with Dr. Loftus see her as "Dr. Evil." What about the majority of mental health professionals who don't agree with her? Do they think of her as "Dr. Evil"? No, they don't. But the show portrays anyone who disagrees with her as wacko.

Third, why don't we hear from a professional who believes that repressed memories exist? Sure, they inserted a five-second disclaimer, but that doesn't suffice.

Fourth, the term "repressed memories" isn't in use anymore, and in fact, doesn't accurately describe the phenomenon. It's called "dissociative amnesia", and has been in the DSM for at least two editions. A disorder doesn't get in the DSM without widespread professional support.

Finally, if the show is going to bring up the issue of knowledge of events lost to dissociation (this is actually what "repressed memories" are), I think the show should explore how the "memories" actually come to the surface. It is not with the prodding of a therapist or anyone else. They come up on their own.

The story of the painter shows one way that a memory can surface. Perhaps the show meant that segment to support the idea that a memory can in fact be lost and reclaimed, but if that's the case, I don't think it made the connection clear.

Also, the segment where someone tells us that intense experiences of joy or pain are stored in a more primitive part of the brain actually supports the theory of dissociation or repressed memories of trauma. In this story, it's a joyful memory that was lost, but the same mechanism works when children are abused. In fact, the memory in the story was lost not because it was joyful, but because it was associated with a traumatic memory: the painter couldn't bear to remember how happy they were at one time, because he felt guilty about cheating on her, after which she died in a horrific way. Probably he felt guilty, too. Hence the need to dissociate from the events.

One more thing -- one of the clinical features of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is that the person often can't remember all or part of the traumatic experience. You can look it up.

Thank you.

Jul. 06 2015 07:19 PM
Serena Exantus

When I first started listening to this podcast, I was very unimpressed. Codrescu, was answering the question, where do computers get their extra memory from? He answered that computer companies steal memories from our brains. This did not make sense to me and made me think that this whole podcast was going to be a joke. Once Loftus began to speak, I became more interested in what she was saying. She says, that you can implement memories into someones brain by changing or adding details to a true story. This was very disturbing to me. This is a dangerous capability that each and every person has the power to do. This can be easily used in police investigations during interrogations. Details that can convict a person can easily be implemented into your mind. This got me thinking, how many memories do we have that are false. We can easily do this to ourselves just like we can to others. The saying, "once to tell a lie long enough, you begin to believe it too," really got me thinking. This quote is actually true. If you tell yourself something happened, you will eventually believe it.I plan to look into this more because it greatly interest me.

Mar. 04 2015 07:41 AM
stanley b klein

One thing we think we know is that emotional situations make memory more stable (there is debate on this, but however one defines stability, it does seem that trauma has the effect of burning the event into one's recall).

So, even at your young age it is possible (again, many debate this) that you could remember in great clarity what happened when you were only 4 years old.

That being said, it also is likely that remembering the troubling event many times over many years has modified the "truth" to some unknown degree. The gist of what you recall likely is accurate, but the specifics may not be.

A for healing -- some will have taken place. Swelling associated with brain trauma subsides and that alone helps. As for healing "broken" cortical matter - things seem less positive. The jury is out, but the current evidence suggests this is a difficult to predict consequence of initial damage. One possible and more promising route is the idea that other intact areas of the brain can "take over" for the damaged areas, partly adopting their function.

Sorry such a strong memory is also such a sad one.

Aug. 04 2014 10:53 AM

I was playing wyih my syster ..insiyde a hola hoop we wer movin bak en forth frm whon syide of th porch tew th other syide ov th prch- prthnding to be wyibd swept ..ohn a dekk of a shyip.......bakk & forth .ovr & ovr,,frm whon syide to th other syide ....pwasing at th rayiling..I reached owyt..wyith both armz flalling waving eye blurted owyt eyimm supperr mahn upp upp ah away....I was 4 yrs old....
that I rembre my mom was krying ..had a towel ohn my hedd-i had fallin ovr th rail-ahn landed ohn an old steppin stone used way bakk in th daye for acssisin carriges...ah byigg 3 ft by 2 ft boulder/rock-flat...recived sum frontal lobe damage brayine matter intactcraked/brokin crainial5 inch deep scar,in my skull....trs -yrs layter my syster reviled she lyifted th hola hoop upp under my wayste to roll across th deck,,when I fell downward.head frst ohn to th rock off th 1 story porch,,,,,,i rembre it was a sunnyday.chyilly we wor cowtes/hattz...DR sedd told my mom my hat saved me frm sever brain damage....she my mom told me that,,,,,POYINT-CUDD SUCH A REKKOLECT.BE IMAGINED WYTH XTRA DETAIL AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE....SPESIAL EDDUCATION WAS WARRINTED - BY TH NYC.BOARD OF ED - IN 1973 4 YRS LAYTER......CULD IT BE A WRNG. DESISION TO DIEIGGNOSS A SPECIAL NEEDS ..CHILD-.HWEVER W/O EVER THAKKIN INTO ACCOUNT OF THE BRAINS HEALIN...PROSSES.....HUMM- mrmm

Aug. 04 2014 07:54 AM
Chandra Garsson

I don't believe Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. I believe she's lying about all the threats and the lady on the airplane hitting her with the magazine when Loftus's identity was revealed. I also think she's lying because she's either a paid shill for the paren'ts groups against their abused children coming forth w/memories, or she herself was abused, has repressed memories, and she has Stockholm syndrome, meaning she still identifies with whoever abused her.

Aug. 02 2014 04:48 PM
Shawn C

Fox "News" does this everyday

Aug. 02 2014 04:02 PM
stanley b klein from ucsb

From Katherine in TX: "My concern lies in the validity of the painter's memory of the girl and the time they were in the pasture. Since Doctor Loftus proves how easily it is to manipulate memories, cannot Andoe's memories be just as faulty? Is he just trying to find false correlations of the things he paints? The girl has obviously passed and cannot be asked, and no one else is around to verify."

The essential problem is that the reports are NOT memory reports. Challenge any of the "experts" to tell you exactly what a memory is and what differentiates it from other mental states (beliefs, thoughts, imagination...). Good luck on getting a satisfying answer that avoids question begging.

Aug. 01 2014 10:12 AM
Nyle from Sac, CA

@ogrim There it is! You are awesome, thanks so much. I was driving myself nuts trying to find this song. I actually tried using Shazam and Soundhound and got no hits, glad you were able to though. I had actually started to just accept that I was never going to find this song, but just when you think all hope is lost...Thanks again ogrim, and great work finding it! Downloading it as I type this out...

Apr. 12 2014 09:23 AM

I found the song at 35:20! It's actually by the band "ee" on the album "For 100 We Try Harder". It's the 3rd cut: "Thomas Sleeps Beneath an El Paso Tree". It's on Spotify and itunes :) Found it using a music recognition app!

Apr. 07 2014 03:10 PM
Nyle from Sac, CA

Thanks again Evan for your help but I sorted through all of Explosion In The Sky's tracks prior to 2008 [Season 3 was produced in 2007] and I could not find this track. If anyone is able to identify this track it would be AWESOME! I've become slightly obsessed with finding it.

Oh and thanks Evan for introducing me to Explosions in the Sky, actually really dig their music and grabbed one of their albums.

Mar. 24 2014 04:49 PM
Nyle from Sac, CA

Thanks Evan! Much appreciated.

Feb. 21 2014 06:54 PM
Evan from NC

@Nyle, I'm not sure the exact song, but I know the band is Explosions in the Sky. Amazing work, check all of it out.

Jun. 25 2013 10:49 AM

Oops, my fault. Not the 24:00 mark but the 35:20 mark.

May. 20 2013 05:29 PM
Nyle from Sac, CA

I really enjoyed this story. Does anyone know the instrumental track that was playing while they were describing the paintings around 24:00 time. Beautiful track, sounds like recalling a cherished long forgotten moment in time.

May. 20 2013 05:16 PM
Helene from Uniondale, New York

A question regarding the piece about students in the classroom believing the "thief" the professor described had curly hair. Could it be that the collective memory was only forged because a figure of authority pointed out what he "described" as a fact? Could it be that some students disagreed with the professor but didn't dare contradict him? I'd certainly like to know more.

Nov. 10 2012 01:15 PM
Ashley from New Jersey

This piece began with facts on memory. I found myself wondering where the story is. Then it transitioned beautifully into a story of love, loss, and art. It was beautifully done. It used the associative structure perfectly.

Dec. 19 2011 10:58 PM
paul barbera from nyc

This is the link to joes studio, not sure if its appropriate to post here, but it was thanks of radio lab that was inspired.

Oct. 25 2011 10:33 AM
paul barbera from nyc

I love your show, thank you.. I was so compelled by Joes story that i shot him for my blog.
"where they create"

Oct. 25 2011 10:31 AM
neil jendon from Chicago

Just heard this podcast. (Yes, I'm late to the party.) It's great, except for the segment with Andrei Codrescu. I'm sorry, his glib, superficial characterizations of "Americans" make me nauseous.

Why give this guy air time? He's not funny or insightful. Minus the accent and all the authority that accompanies it, he's barely worthy a column in Parade.

Nov. 03 2010 12:55 AM
Felix Herbst

I think someone seems to have stolen YOUR ideas. And used them in Inception.

Sep. 19 2010 12:01 AM
becky n. from los angeles

The Joe Andoe story is one of the most romantic things I've ever heard. Gutting and magical. Now to remember it...

May. 04 2010 08:57 PM
Joe Manning from Brooklyn

Can anyone tell me what the name of the musician is for that beautiful song that follows the piece about Joe Andoe?

Mar. 26 2010 08:06 PM
Katherine from Texas

My concern lies in the validity of the painter's memory of the girl and the time they were in the pasture. Since Doctor Loftus proves how easily it is to manipulate memories, cannot Andoe's memories be just as faulty? Is he just trying to find false correlations of the things he paints? The girl has obviously passed and cannot be asked, and no one else is around to verify.

I love the radiolabs and listen to them all the time. Thank you for providing nonbiased material to get a young college student, as myself, thinking outside the box.

Mar. 21 2010 09:56 PM from

good radio
Loved the editing and presentation of this most important topic. Downloaded the audio file. However, I don't believe that the entire show was included in the nice audio provided.

Nov. 05 2009 09:07 AM

Not to mention the fact that I'd love to download all of my memories into a computer. More permanence than my actual brain!

Aug. 03 2007 03:32 PM

A tiny bit less metaphorically than computer companies stealing our thoughts, you could argue that corporate culture and commodification/consumerist culture really does short circuit our memories, recycling cultural ideas so fast and mixing them up so much that they wipe our brains of any sort of historical context.

Aug. 03 2007 03:31 PM

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