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Restarting Civilisation Episode 6


Richard Feynman once said: ‘If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms-little particles that that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.’

So, we asked the people featured in this app what scientific idea they would like in their back pocket in the event we had to restart civilisation.

Memories can go wrong

I think one of the massive findings in psychology that you really wouldn’t want to have to find out all over again is how our memory is not the same as a permanent record of everything that’s happened to us.  So, memories feel really real, memories feel like a…like a sort of file with the details in it about things that have happened, events that have happened to us in our lives and they’re not…they’re stories that we tell to ourselves to make sense of the stuff that we’ve remembered.  And so memories can go wrong: you can forget things, you can add things in because they make the story better; there’s a phenomenal situation where siblings take each others’ memories and attribute them to themselves and it’s very common with identical twins.  I’ve got one with my sister, there’s some family occasion where somebody said something very witty and we both think it was us, I think it was me, she’s certain it was her, but that’s what always happens, the story always makes you look better in it so people appropriate memories that make them feel better and sort of take them themselves.  So that has come…and it’s been a long time to establishing that, originally, people started working on memory and they thought memory was like a filing system and you could see how much information got into memory and how it was stored in memory and that’s not what it is, it’s a very active, constructive process and I think that’s probably one of the most basic and elemental findings in psychology.