Is Your Core Self Built on Lies?

There’s been a lot of speculation over whether Brian Williams was a “victim” of his memory — was he lying about being on a helicopter in Iraq that was shot down a dozen years ago, or does the version of events in his head actually differ from reality?

If the latter seems far-fetched, consider that there are a whole lot of events in your head that you’re cold wrong about. Williams could very well be lying (and being in a chopper under fire would seem like a pretty monumental event), but the brain is far less like a recorder and much more like an interpreter.

So point of all this: reading up on the controversy, I was reminded of an exceptional short story by a guy with sort of a nerdy, speculative-fiction reputation … insofar as he’s got a reputation at all, because far too few people read him. But his name is Ted Chiang, and the story is a fictional essay about a piece of software in the future called Remem.

Remem is basically an advanced search tool. Many people record their entire lives with something like advanced Google Glass, and Remem can search conversations and events from that record. So say you’re thinking about that time your dad took you to McDonald’s for ice cream to make things up to you, and all you have to do is say, “Remember dad, at McDonald’s with ice cream” and Remem brings up the video in your field of vision.

And it’s not only for use when speaking with someone else; Remem also monitors your subvocalizations. If you read the words “the first Szechuan restaurant you ate at,” your vocal cords will move as if you’re reading aloud, and Remem will bring up the relevant video.

So the essay revolves around a single event, a fight with the author’s daughter. And using Remem, the author finds that things weren’t at all how he’d remembered them.

Here’s the line I thought of when Williams came up:

“I am here to tell you that you have made more than you think, that some of the core assumptions on which your self-image is built are actually lies. Spend some time using Remem, and you’ll find out.”

Oh — and did I mention it’s free and you can read it online right now?


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