Oliver Sacks on Memory, Plagiarism, and the Necessary Forgettings Flashcard
In his many publications and interviews, Oliver Sacks, a British-born neurologist, historian and naturalist, delved into the workings of the human memory. He was particularly fascinated by the human brain calling it, ‘the most incredible thing in the entire universe.’ And while many may have expressed reservations with his arguments on some occasions, the truth is that he wasn’t just one of the most educated people during his time.
Oliver Sacks research works yielded many truthful findings with which everyone would agree. A look at his bestselling books such as Awakenings, the Mind’s Eye and Musicophilia would reveal the mindset of a man whose publications remain relevant to today’s psychological studies since his demise in August 2015.
But here is the catch. What did Oliver Sacks have to say about memory and plagiarizing? The truth is that these are often debatable issues, albeit, not many partakers in the discussion end up with a conclusive agreement. There is always more than what meets the eye. This post explores one of Oliver’s masterpieces Memory, Plagiarism and Necessary Forgettings so take a look at the next sections to learn more.
On Memory, Oliver says that it can never be an exact duplicate of an original idea, but rather, a creative act that continues. The question is, does it, therefore, mean that plagiarism is permissible if it is a reproduction of one’s own original ideas? Well, while students in this age and time have access to plagiarism checker on websites from which they order papers or other platforms, there are many facets to it.
Definitively, plagiarism is theft of literary material, often verbatim. It could be a section of text from Martin Luther’s famous speech ‘I have a dream’ or using an image from the web without giving credit to its creator/source. Whether it is intentional or not, Johan Lehrer, another neuroscientist, argues that memory is not a device that records occurrences. According to Johan, our memories often fail us, something which many people seem to forget and instead think that everything they can remember is true.
Moved by a spontaneous emergence of boyhood memories, especially those which long remained dormant in his fifties, Sacks had more to say when reviewing New York Books essay. He argues that sometimes we exaggerate memories, and in the process, it becomes difficult to discern things into which we are assimilated from past experiences.
What is the connection with Autoplagiarim?
Now, basing on Oliver’s argument on the fabrication of memories, he posits that it is surprising to discover that some of the most treasured memories may be lies or experiences by another person. On this, he says that some of his beliefs, impulses and enthusiasms could have been people’s suggestions which over time influenced his mind unconsciously or consciously, but which must have been forgotten.
A look at the above argument presents an interesting twist to Johan Lehrer’s argument that ‘saying our memories are true is a big lie.’ Come to think about it. If Oliver Sacks’ argument that some of his memories may have been influenced by external forces is true, then many would agree that autoplagiarim is not always intentional.
Autoplagiarim is referred to ask copying own past literary works, whether it is speech, or picking a few phrases from past notes then writing them as if they are new. Thus, would you then refer to it as a necessary forgetting or a literary crime? Sacks wanted to find out the truth about it and so here is what he had to say, ‘Necessary Forgettings often amount to autoplagiarism – a case where one finds himself/herself reproducing literary works because he or she may have genuinely forgotten what happened.’
The Necessary Forgettings and Unconscious Plagiarism
After looking at his old notebooks, Oliver realized that while they contained lots of his thoughts, most of them have never been part of cherished memories but which he often retraced and written as new. He says, ‘it is something that can happen to anyone whether you are a painter, a music composer or a writer. It is a necessary forgetting which often leads to the rebirth of old memories in new different ways, perspectives and contexts.’
In furtherance of his research, Sacks looked into several case studies, especially those where false memories about events that never happened got implanted into the minds of people. It may interest you to note that this is a subject that a poet Henry Miller and a writer Mark Twain equally explored.
He discovers that whether memories are imagined or real, it is difficult to label them as historical truth or narrative truth – as psychoanalyst Donald Spence puts it, without outside confirmation. That’s because, he further argues, the brain or the mind does not have a mechanism for the truthful recollection of memories.
Most of the times, what people feel, assert or regard as true memories according to Helen Keller, depends on imagination. It is impossible to, therefore, directly access historical truth as recordings or transmissions in the brain because most of the times, people receive and interpret information/experiences subjectively.
While autoplagiarim may occur as a result of forgotten memories or experiences over which we had no control, the universal truth is that most, if not all, are reliable and solid facts. The necessary forgettings happen because of frailties, imperfections, creativity, flexibility and a tendency to forget, Oliver Sacks points out.