Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Sir Frederic Bartlett - The War of the Ghosts

I caught this fascinating programme earlier today on Radio 4:

Sir Frederic Bartlett – The War of the Ghosts

This is another blog entry (see previous) not directly connected to the NT but of related interest. The programme explores Bartlett, a psychologist at Cambridge University in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and his experiments on memory. Here's the programme's blurb:
When the British psychologist Sir Frederic Bartlett was working at Cambridge University during the First World War, memory had only just started to be considered a psychological rather than a philosophical subject. A German psychologist called Herman Ebbinghaus dominated the field. He had spent days at a time learning lists of nonsense words, testing himself to see precisely how many he could remember. But a game of Chinese Whispers gave Bartlett an idea which he developed into a radically different approach to the study of memory. He discovered that when he asked people to repeat an unfamiliar story they had read, they changed it to fit their existing knowledge, and it was this revised story which then became incorporated into their memory. Bartlett's findings led him to propose 'schema' - the cultural and historical contextualisation of memory, which has important implications for eyewitness testimony and false memory syndrome, and even for artificial intelligence!
You can listen on-line. There are presumably some implications here for the question of memory and oral tradition in early Christian literature; cf. Crossan's interesting discussion of the issue in The Birth of Christianity.

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