As we have argued before, Brian Williams almost certainly didn’t fabricate stories on purpose. After all, he told different versions of the same story on different occasions on the television. It was childishly simple for anyone with a computer to prove that Mr. Williams was being inaccurate in his recollections. Surely Mr. Williams was simply making mistakes in memory.
Now it may seem convenient that Mr. Williams stories always seem to become more exciting, and more exotic, rather than less exciting and less exotic. After all, if it was a simple mistake in memory, why didn’t Mr. Williams forget some exciting detail, rather than inserting one?
It turns out that bumblebees have the answer. Recent research suggests that bumblebees are in the habit of fabricating memories, by merging two or more memories together. It turns out that bumblebees have severe limitations in their memory storage due to the very small size of the brains. As a result they don’t have the mental capacity to store memories of every flower they have ever visited. At the same time the location and type of these flowers may be very important to them in terms of supplying nectar to the hive. What to do?
Bumblebees have developed a very clever way of optimizing their memory storage that the researchers were able to demonstrate. The researchers showed that the bumblebees would favor flowers of a particular color that they had visited before, and that they knew were a source of nectar; no surprise there.
But what the researchers also showed was that bumblebees zoned into flowers that they had not visited before, but which had characteristics of two other flowers they had visited, a ‘made up’ flower that contain details of two real flowers. In fact, the bumblebees preferred these ‘made up’ flowers over the long term. It seems that somehow the bumblebees have merged the memories of the two flowers within their brains, so that although they are noticing the flower before, it was still doubly attractive to them!
Returning to Mr. Williams is seems clear that he emerged a memory of his helicopter flight together with his memory of being told about the other helicopter which was damaged by a rocket propelled grenade. The result was that he recalled being on a helicopter which was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (even though this didn’t take place).
The reason that Mr. Williams’ stories always became more exciting (rather than less exciting) was, of course, because nobody told him boring stories, they all told him exciting stories. As the stories became merged more more exciting elements were included. And his audience was attracted to the stories like bumblebees to flowers, it seems that, like the bumblebees, we sometimes prefer made-up stories to real ones!
Here’s an article from the LA Times describing the research in detail:
Even bumblebees ‘merge’ their memories
Bumblebees are just as guilty of merging memories as NBC anchor Brian Williams, it turns out. A new study, published online Thursday in the journal Current Biology, suggests that Bombus terrestrisis prone to a type of memory error common among humans — melding information from two episodes into one. Bees may not be able to tell tales about being under fire in flights over Iraq, but they do demonstrate remarkable memory ability. After all, many studies have demonstrated that memory is formed on a cell-by-cell basis. Even bumblebees ‘merge’ their memories
Picture courtesy of James Barker and freedigitalphotos.net
Shawn Carson CafeHypno Editorial Team
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