The saying goes “even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day”. The implication is that no matter how wrong you are, how broken your reasoning, or how unfounded your opinion, once in a while (by chance) you’ll be right about something. There’s also an inverse corollary here: No matter how good your reasoning and your facts are, no matter how often you’re right, sometimes you’re going to make a mistake and be wrong.
Life’s tough like that, and we all really know these things, but it is largely these two principles that have led into a long-term distrust of the process of science.
Our physical sensory systems lie to us in all sorts of routine ways, and I like to occasionally share some examples of that.
What’s the big difference between popular chicken-flavoured potato crisps, and unpopular garlic-and-onion flavoured potato crisps?
How would you feel if someone called you a liar and a godless charlatan? If they suggested that you were engaged in a long-term campaign of deception, and they tried to make sure that you got less money to do what you do, so that they could get more?
How would that make you feel?
The brain records conjunctions of details and events in what are sometimes termed convergence/divergence zones. Disparate elements of an event, or of a conversation, or of a passage from something you are reading are mixed in with sounds, and diverse visual and sensory data, much of which you may be unaware of at the time.
Each little detail, whether you are consciously aware of that detail or not, is also reinforced by repetition. The actual mechanisms of memory, however, are not smart and do not discriminate between – what we might consider – unessential details, and essential details.
When it comes to the memory aspect of learning, therefore, we’re almost always doing it wrong. That’s why it seems so hard much of the time.