Where I Cram My Ideas

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Trusting Others

I just enjoyed an essay on Eyewitness Testimony and Memory, thanks to Austin Cline over at About.com. It ended with this quote by Elizabeth Loftus in Memory: Surprising New Insights into How We Remember and Why We Forget:
    “Memory is imperfect. This is because we often do not see things accurately in the first place. But even if we take in a reasonably accurate picture of some experience, it does not necessarily stay perfectly intact in memory. Another force is at work. The memory traces can actually undergo distortion. With the passage of time, with proper motivation, with the introduction of special kinds of interfering facts, the memory traces seem sometimes to change or become transformed. These distortions can be quite frightening, for they can cause us to have memories of things that never happened. Even in the most intelligent among us is memory thus malleable.”
It made me want to mention two important thoughts.

First is the idea that if God exists, It would make the faith so dependent on witness and testimony. See, that makes very little sense to me. One would imagine that God would be more concerned with people trusting It, rather than other people.

The second is about the importance of testimony. Aristotle noted in his Rhetoric that, whatever its reliability may be, testimony plays a large role in persuasion - and this is a sentiment that has resurfaced to lead a few modern rhetoricians to delve deeper into the role of ethos in persuasion. As Aristotle pointed out,
"It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses." - Rhetoric, Book I, Part 2, 350 BCE
All things considered, it's not surprising that people immediately trust the eyewitness accounts of those they trust, admire, or see no reason not to trust. Unless a listener has a strong reason to doubt a story, he/she will almost certainly believe it. What reason did the superstitious Mediterranean world have to doubt that the leader of one messianic cult had ascended from the dead into Heaven? What reason does the modern layperson have to doubt what their trusted preacher has to say about the theory of evolution, especially when packaged so convincingly?

No comments: