Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?

 


Posted: May 7, 2002  |   Back to the Miracles Index  |  Summary


 

 

9. How likely is it that unconscious forces (from the culture, from Jungian-type archetypes, from grief/trauma processes) modified true memories of non-miraculous events in the life of Jesus into false memories of miraculous events, via the creation of miraculous additions to the non-miraculous memories?

 

This question is obviously THREE questions:

 

1.        Did unconscious Jungian archetypes of the evangelists modify true memories in such a way as to create false memories which then included miraculous elements (and which the evangelists believed were still true memories)?

2.        Did grief and/or trauma (over the failure of the Jesus movement and the violent death of their leader) modify true memories of some events, in such a way as to create false memories which then included miraculous elements (and which the evangelists believed were still true memories)?

 

3.        Did unconscious cultural expectations of the evangelists modify true memories/experiences of some events, in such a way as to create false memories which then included miraculous elements (and which the evangelists believed were still true memories)?

 

In these cases, we are NOT trying to tie the data to some theoretical miracle pattern of some 'wonder working divine figure', but asking a more modest question about "random" miracles. In other words, any/all of these three sub/un-conscious influences could be working and produce a group of false memories of miracles, BUT without the miracles fitting into some kind of 'pattern', supposedly expected of some 'wonder working divine figure'. For questions #2 and #3, the miracles could be COMPLETELY random and pattern-less, and even the pattern semi-predicted by Jungian archetypes in #1 would not conform to this theoretical pattern. [Note: if the Jungian archetype DID 'match up' with s supposed  pattern of the 'wonder working divine/royal figure', then all the EARLIER arguments of the series would apply, showing that this pattern was non-existent and non-realized in the miracle patterns of Jesus. The only reason we are considering the possibility of a different Jungian pattern is because it would be different from this presumed wonder-worker pattern.]

 

 

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1. Did unconscious Jungian archetypes of the evangelists modify true memories in such a way as to create false memories which then included miraculous elements (and which the evangelists believed were still true memories)?

 

I added this question since Jesus sometimes gets discussed as a Jungian-type 'hero' archetype in the literature (e.g., Joseph Campbell). Jesus is typically characterized as an epic hero (living in historical time) as opposed to a mythic hero (operating in sacred pre-history, as we have noted), but some writers blur the two. Certainly Jung held to something like this:

 

"In the gospels themselves factual reports, legends, and myths are woven into a whole." [Cited at [WR:HM:11]]

 

There are at least three serious problems with this scenario:

 

1. There doesn’t seem to be an agreed-on definition of this 'hero' archetype (by the leaders/practitioners in that field);

 

2. The hero myths and epics we have do not seem to fit the proposed archetypal models anyway.

 

3. The miracles of Jesus don't fit into 'hero' models anyway--the miracles are NOT key elements in (epic) heroic structure.

 

Let's look at these just a bit closer:

 

 

1. There doesn’t seem to be an agreed-on definition of this 'hero' architype (by the leaders/practitioners in that field);

 

This can easily be seen by working through historical reviews/introductions in major works on comparative mythology/heroic literature. The key figures who developed descriptions of hero figures are typically given as Otto Rank (1884-1939), Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), and Lord Raglan (1885-1964). Each of these wrote seminal/important works on the Hero, and attempted to delineate patterns and subject matter of hero myths. But modern scholarship has found their attempts wanting in many aspects, most notably in the failure to find a real defining pattern.

 

·         Otto Rank

 

Rank's heroes were all male, and are limited to the first half of the figure's life. Here is his description of the heroic pattern:

 

"The hero is the child of most distinguished parents, usually the son of a king. His origin is preceded by difficulties, such as continence, or prolonged barrenness, or secret intercourse of the parents due to external prohibition or obstacles. During or before the pregnancy, there is a prophecy, in the form of a dream or oracle, cautioning against his birth, and usually threatening danger to the father (or his representative). As a rule, he is surrendered to the water, in a box. He is then saved by animals, or by lowly people (shepherds), and is suckled by a female animal or by an humble woman. After he has grown up, he finds his distinguished parents, in a highly versatile fashion. He takes his revenge on his father, on the one hand, and is acknowledged, on the other. Finally he achieves rank and honors." (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, p. 57) [WR:HM:14, emphases mine]

 

But this pattern doesn't seem to fit very well:

 

"As brilliant as it is, Rank's theory can be criticized on multiple grounds. One can grant the pattern while denying the Freudian meaning, which, after all, reverses the manifest one. Or one can deny the pattern itself. Certainly the pattern fits only those hero myths, or the portions of them, that cover heroes in the first half of life. Excluded, for example, would be the bulk of the myths of Odysseus and Aeneas, who are largely adult heroes. Rank's own examples come from Europe, the Near East, and India, and his pattern may not fit heroes from elsewhere. Excluded altogether are female heroes and nonaristocratic male ones...Rank's pattern does not even fit all of his own examples. Moses, for example, is hardly the son of Pharaoh, does not kill or seek to kill Pharaoh, and does not succeed Pharaoh. Moses is the son of lowly rather than noble parents, is exposed by his parents to save rather than to kill him, and is saved by the daughter of Pharaoh." [WR:HM:16]

 

 

·         Joseph Campbell

 

In contrast with Rank, Campbell's heroes (more mythic than epic, though)  were so in the second-half of their lives, and his suggested patterns (called 'overgeneralized' by Dean Miller in [WR:TEH]) are not confirmed by the data either:

 

"Like Rank's theory, Campbell's can be faulted on various grounds. As with Rank's theory, one might grant the pattern but deny the meaning. Or one might question the pattern itself. Since it obviously applies only to myths about heroes in the second half of life, it excludes all of Rank's hero myths, or at least all of Rank's portions of them. And, as noted, it partly excludes female heroes. Whether the pattern even fits Campbell's own examples it is not easy to tell, for Campbell, unlike either Rank or Raglan, provides no set of hero myths to accompany the whole of his pattern. While he continually cites scores of hero myths to illustrate individual parts of his pattern, he does not apply his full pattern to even one myth...One might question even so seemingly transparent a confirmation of Campbell's pattern as the myth of Aeneas, which Campbell names as an example of his pattern (see The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 30). Aeneas' descent to Hades and return does fit Campbell's scheme snugly, but Aeneas' larger itinerary does not. Rather than returning home to Troy upon completion of his journey, he proceeds to Italy to found a new civilization. Similarly, Odysseus' descent to the underworld fits Campbell's pattern, but his larger journey, which Campbell cites (see The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 58), does not. Odysseus, unlike Aeneas, does return home, but also unlike Aeneas, he arrives with no boon in hand. His return is an entirely personal triumph. Since Campbell distinguishes a myth from a fairy tale on exactly the grounds that the triumph of a mythic hero is more than personal (see The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp.37-8), Odysseus' story would thereby fail to qualify as a myth." [WR:HM:22f]

 

 

·         Lord Raglan

 

Lord Raglan (deriving substantially from James Fraizer) allows heroes in either/both 'halves' of their life, and puts forth this list:

 

1.        The hero's mother is a royal virgin;

2.        His father is a king, and

3.        Often a near relative of his mother, but

4.        The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and

5.        He is also reputed to be the son of a god.

6.        At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal

7.        grandfather, to kill him, but

8.        He is spirited away, and

9.        Reared by foster-parents in a far country.

10.     We are told nothing of his childhood, but

11.     On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.

12.     After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,

13.     He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and

14.     Becomes king.

15.     For a time he reigns uneventfully, and

16.     Prescribes laws, but

17.     Later he loses favour with the gods and/or his subjects, and

18.     Is driven from the throne and city, after which

19.     He meets with a mysterious death,

20.     Often at the top of a hill.

21.     His children, if any, do not succeed him.

22.     His body is not buried, but nevertheless

23.     He has one or more holy sepulchres. (The Hero, p. 138) [WR:HM:24]

 

And again, the data doesn’t comply with the pattern:

 

"Like Rank's and Campbell's theories, Raglan's can be questioned on various counts. One might grant the mythic pattern but deny a connection to ritual. Or one might grant some connection but deny that, in the light of the disparity between the myth and the ritual, the connection takes Raglan's form. Or one might deny the pattern itself - denying either that it applies worldwide or that it even applies substantially to Raglan's own cases. By Raglan's own tally, none of his examples scores all twenty-two points, and one scores only nine. What of hero myths in which the hero, rather than seeking or becoming king, remains the outsider in conflict with the established king - for example, the conflict in the Iliad between Achilles and Agamemnon. Rank can at least assert that hero myths which stray from his scheme are distortions created to keep the true pattern hidden. Raglan can use no comparable ploy: there is nothing in his pattern to be kept a secret. Why, then, one might ask, do not any of his hero myths, if not all hero myths, attain perfect scores?" [WR:HM:26]

 

Remember, for this to be Jungian, it has to be universal--and this is what we simply do not see in the data. Neither the Oedipus-type story, nor the 'average hero legend' (Puhvel's phrase) manifest the universality needed to make this claim [WR:CM:3f]

 

 

2. The hero myths and epics do not seem to fit the archetypal model anyway.

 

Dean Miller's work on the Epic Hero opens up with an admission that the warrior-hero (the most likely category for Jesus) is NOT truly an Jungian archetype:

 

"The warrior-hero, as we shall see, is not one of Jung's archetypes (though the child hero is), but the archetypal idea itself acts as a vast but problematic nutrient in which 'our' hero may or may not flourish." [WR:TEH:64]

 

And, after 350+ pages of analyzing hero myths, comes to the conclusion that this warrior myth is NOT something generated/created by the archetypical-class desires:

 

"Investigations into what would seem to be a parallel imaginative creation of a potent-impressive type, the charismatic leader or figure of power, have suggested that the deep origin of this type lies in the earnest human desire to rebuild or resuscitate a kind of super nurturant, ever-providing caregiver-parent, perfect and powerful and protective of the individual self in every respect. Fantastication or fabulism, in this view, will construct such a figure on the template of paternity (or a combined ideal of beneficent paternity and maternity, like the Jungian Good Parents), but how can we do this with the heroic persona? Can we find a fantasized big brother--not Orwell's grim invention, but the imagined older brother to ego--who displays a stronger, swifter, more powerful persona? The notion is tempting. Here is the condensation of like/not like, close to the heart of the imagemaker yet essentially detached from him, invested with all the lively powers of a younger generation (ego's generation) yet soon maturing toward his own destiny, strong in all his imagined perfections. And yet this fraternal-familial image doesn't quite fit. " [WR:TEH:374]

 

He had anticipated this conclusion, in his introduction:

 

"…I think there is a significant error built into his [Campbell's] Jungian attribution." [WR:TEH:69]

 

 

3. The miracles of Jesus don't fit into 'hero' models anyway--the miracles are NOT key elements in heroic structure, and the dramatic patterns don't match.

 

Most readers will see the deep discontinuities between the hero-pattern (described above) and the portrayal of the life of Jesus. Most notable for me is the key heroic characteristic of the Duel between the Father and the Son:

 

"It [the death of the son theme] involves that deadly duel between heroic son and heroic father in which the son will die at the father's hand--an extreme but not a rare case of the agonistic relationship between generations contained in the typical (even the quintessential) hero tale." [WR:TEH:345f]

 

Of course, there are many other discontinuities between Jesus and the various characteristics put forth by Rank, Campbell, and Raglan (e.g., marriage, taking revenge on the father), but this core element of 'duel' is in such stark disagreement with the consistent expressions of Filial love and loyalty for His Father.

 

It should also be noted that epic heroes (as opposed to mythic ones) don't actually do miracles--they sometimes do extraordinary feats, but not feats of supernature or associated with divine power. [Mythic heroes, of course, DO perform miracles, but we have already noted that myths operated in sacred pre-history, which does not apply to the gospel narratives.]

 

Accordingly, the miracles of Jesus do not fit the patterns of heroes anyway.

 

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2. Did grief and/or trauma (over the failure of the Jesus movement and the violent death of their leader) modify true memories of some earlier events, in such a way as to create false memories which then included miraculous elements (and which the evangelists believed were still true memories)?

 

Let's look at these separately.

 

Grief. If one searches through the psychological literature for how grief/bereavement affects memory, one major subject (and only one subject) turns up consistently: idealization.

 

Here are two textbook definitions/descriptions:

 

·         "More than loss of memory of the deceased's appearance was distortion of recollection of certain disturbing aspects of him. Memories of the negative aspects of the dead are easily lost and idealization is carried out by most bereaved people and encouraged by society." [Colin Murray Parkes, Bereavement--Studies of Grief in Adult Life, International University Press:197, page 70)

 

·         "Idealization. All negative feelings towards the deceased are repressed. The repression may lead to fluctuating feelings of guilt or remorse for past acts or fantasies of unkindness to the deceased. Recollection of some of these may be exaggerated." [Therese Rando, Grief, Dying, and Death: Clinical Interventions for Caregivers, Research Press:1984, page 26]

 

Notice that idealization does NOT "make up good deeds (miraculous or otherwise)" about the deceased. It is a 'forgetting' process--not a creation/construction process. As the second quote shows, if there IS any fantasy construction, then it is about deeds done by the survivor (i.e., imagined incidents in which they were unkind to the deceased).

 

Normal grief processes affect memory, but in a forgetting direction. No new 'good deeds' are invented about the deceased in the process. [BTW, over time even the idealization fades, and the bereaved later arrives back at a more accurate representation of the deceased.]

 

Accordingly, grief processes would not be responsible for unconscious creation of miracle stories/events about Jesus.

 

 

Trauma. If the death occurred in an exceptional manner, with a high trauma level experienced with it, then there might be additional memory consequences.

 

In the chapter entitled "Losses Resulting from War and Violence", John Harvey (Embracing Their Memory: Loss and the Social Psychology of Storytelling, Simon/Shuster:1996)  described this condition:

 

"Loss and grief resulting from war can traumatize survivors, whether they are involved directly or are from families who have lost loved ones in war. In the wake of serving in combat, soldiers frequently experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of this disorder are numerous but include feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that are similar to those shown by persons exhibiting serious bereavement." (p.79)

 

The list of symptoms of the disorder has only one that involves memory: flashbacks of war or death scenes.

 

 The flashback of scenes is familiar to us from the media, and memory researchers call these 'persistent memories'. But for our purposes, we should note that the nature of these flashbacks is that they do not change to any significant degree. They are 'persistent' and 'intrusive'. They are NOT 'creative' or 'constructed'--they are violent in their brute reality. They do not create new events (much less add miraculous powers to fallen comrades).

 

However, in research studies involving these survivors, there does seem to be some memory changes evident, but these are more supportive of memory stability than of modification:

 

1.        "Declarative memory for material unrelated to the trauma appears to be impaired in PTSD patients, whereas recall of trauma-related material is relatively enhanced." [CS:MD:156] This argues that information/memories about Jesus would be 'relatively enhanced' in terms of recall accuracy, and therefore not 'creative'.

 

2.        "…veterans with combat-related PTSD performed worse than veterans without PTSD in learning lists of words unrelated to their traumas. However, PTSD patients exhibited a relative facilitation of recall, compared to the non-traumatized veterans, when words were combat-related." [CS:MD:157] This argues that information/memories about Jesus would be more easily recalled when discussing related areas or associated issues (e.g., questions about what did Jesus do in Samaria).

 

In other words, the emotional power of the trauma would 'cement' the central elements into their memory, instead of exerting a force to modify the memories themselves.

 

Theoretically, of course, trauma could presumably be so severe as to induce serious mental pathologies such as schizophrenia and various dementias (which CAN create delusional memories and fantasies without bound), but this possibility is essentially ruled out by (1) the absence of concomitant pathological symptoms in the lives of these successful disciples/authors; and (2) the group-output and social-context of the creation of these documents [i.e., the social nature of the product and shared memories exercised a considerable constraint on individual 'versions' of the events of Jesus life--especially versions that differed perhaps by the presence/absence of an outstanding miracle! We will discuss this in more detail in the next sub-question.]

 

 

Essentially, then, neither grief nor trauma create NEW material. Trauma may forget some, but cannot forget the main components of the experience, and grief can forget/ignore some; but neither show evidence of construction of new events (especially miraculous ones by the deceased).

 

 

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3. Did unconscious cultural expectations of the evangelists modify true memories/experiences of some events, in such a way as to create false memories which then included miraculous elements (and which the evangelists believed were still true memories)?

 

 

The general way this might work would go something like this:

 

Our culture trains us to 'see' things in conformity with its worldview, values, categories and expectations. These cultural 'grids' are learned during acculturation, and become implicit information/perception schemas in our 'unconscious'. Although it would not be accurate to say that "we see what we want to see", it would be more accurate to say that "we see what we are told is possible to see" and "we see what we have customarily seen in the past". This last statement, of course, is only true some of the time--our expectations are constantly thwarted, partially-satisfied, or refined/developed by experience--witness the entire educational process of learning. But it is safe to assume that our conceptual grid--acquired during acculturation--plays an enormous part in how we 'see' and 'store' experience.

 

Along with this culturally-transmitted grid, would be a social expectations framework, involving unconscious stereotypes and prejudice. 

 

This can be vividly demonstrated in our very topic of miracles. Modern cultural anthropologists are rapidly debunking our Western social interpretive grid, as to what is 'possible' and 'impossible'. Two such anthropologists can point to modern interpreters of Jesus' miracles as failing to understand this (emphases mine):

 

"In his article, 'What Really Happened at the Transfiguration?', Jerome Murphy-O'Connor proposes that Jesus was troubled by contradictions in the will of God as he understood it. According to Luke, whose report includes the original tradition, Jesus resolved his difficulties in prayer and his face lit up. The glory that Peter and the others saw (Luke 9:32) was the radiant joy that accompanies the resolution of a terrible perplexity (Murphy-O'Connor 1987: 18)...As a true Westerner, Murphy-O'Connor turns to science, 'which offers the best illustrations'. Jesus' flash of insight can be compared with scientific insights like those of Newton. No one can explain them; they just happen (p. 19). And the face lights up! How curious that biblical scholars who object to relying upon contemporary Mediterranean cultural information to shed light on the ancient Mediterranean world apparently find no difficulty using modern Western experience to illuminate ancient Mediterranean experience." [Pilch, in NT:MEC:47]

 

"From Madden's excellent survey and summary, it is apparent that Jesus' walking on the sea is one of these culturally unfamiliar, problem-filled behaviors in the traditions about Jesus. These include his healings, exorcisms, his hearing voices from the sky, seeing visions of Satan and angels in the wilderness, wonders such as his multiplication of loaves and fishes, or the disciples' visionary experience (transfiguration, appearances of the resurrected Jesus) and the like. Such behaviors are a problem largely because there is no room for them among the patterns of conduct and perception available in contemporary U.S. and northern European social systems. They are anomalies, not replicable in terms of contemporary cultural cues…If we recall that 'objectivity' is simply socially tutored subjectivity, we might be more empathetic with persons of other cultures who report perceptions that we find incredible, whether miraculous or not, because they are socially dysfunctional for us." [Malina, in NT:AAJ:352,355]

 

Of course, Western evangelicals are just as 'guilty' of this--I STILL get people on the Tank who 'forcefully transplant'  the 'three days and three nights' from 1st-century Jewish usage categories, into modern Western usage categories…sigh.

 

[For a wider discussion/description of this 'grid' issue, see the article on the Existence of Spirits, at  http://www.christian-thinktank.com/eyesopen.html.]

 

Memory errors arise from a number of sources. Brain pathologies (e.g., damaged frontal lobe) produce the most bizarre errors, perhaps, and manipulation of memory by outside agents (e.g., researchers, interrogators, and generally well-meaning therapists, using priming and post-event-information techniques) have proven to be quite effective at inducing memory errors--including false memories. But the source of false memories under discussion in this question is not from an external source or abnormal brain pathology, but from the 'normal' workings of the human mind. Psychologists have long distinguished between memory categories of implicit/explicit and/or conscious/nonconscious (sub-conscious, un-conscious, pre-conscious). We are trying to assess the relative power of these nonconscious processes (holding some assumed cultural 'grid') on memory storage, maintenance, and recall.

 

[I have discussed extensively the issue of Post-Event Information in the article on Eyewitness Testimony (http://www.christian-thinktank.com/loftus.html). Accordingly, the discussion here is focused on unconscious--that is, unprovoked--memory errors. Although I will adduce some additional data relative to the issues discussed in the Loftus article, the article here does not intend to deal extensively with the issues already discussed in the earlier article.]

 

 

The first thing to note in this discussion is that when the terms 'social influence' or 'present influence'  are used in the psychological literature, it is normally NOT talking about unconscious processes, but about social 'agents' operating upon the subject. Accordingly, these references do not add to the discussion on nonconscious processes.

 

"Munsterberg observed that emotional stress, combined with social pressure and suggestion, could distort memory to the point at which people falsely believe that had committed a crime." [CS:SSM:120]

 

"Suggestive techniques tilt the balance among these contributors (to memory recall and reconstruction) so that present influences play a much larger role in determining what is remembered than what actually happened in the past." [CS:SSM:129]

 

"Normal distortions in perceptions, memories, and beliefs arise because these processes are not perfect and because they are subject to the influence of cognitive contexts and motivational and social factors." [CS:MBB:73,Johnson and Raye]

 

"The other answer is that what prevents gross confabulations is proper monitoring, evaluation, and verification of memory traces. These strategic retrieval operations are dependent on the prefrontal cortex. It is significant that confabulation occurs in other disorders, such as schizophrenia, that are associated with frontal dysfunction (Weinberger, Berman, and Zec, 1986; Weinberger, Berman, and Daniel, 1991) and in children whose frontal lobes are poorly developed (Diamond, 1991; Kates and Moscovitch, 1994; Smith et al., 1992). Depleting cognitive resources in normal people by manipulating attention has been shown to affect strategic retrieval associated with frontal function (Moscovitch, 1992, 1994) and to lower frontal activation associated with memory (Shallice et al., 1994). These observations suggest that such manipulations may also play a role in altering the degree of memory distortion in normal people." [CS:MD:246f]

 

 

A more vague use of this notion is that of 'cultural influences' on actual brains/minds, but memory researchers know that this area is not 'solid' enough yet to speak of results or conclusions.

 

"Systematic study of the 'top down' influences of culture on the individual brain/mind faces significant methodological obstacles. However, consideration of the matter brings into sharp focus the important question of how individual memories are shaped and perhaps distorted by social and cultural influences." [CS:MD:30]

 

"And just as source amnesia operates at the individual level, it is also evident at the collective level: cultural myths typically become so embedded in the cognitive fabric of a society that it become virtually impossible to discern their origin. Can these cultural distortions ultimately be understood in terms of the properties of the individual brains that are influenced by and give rise to them? Only time will tell, but it seems clear that interdisciplinary approaches will be required to achieve such an understanding." [CS:MD:30]

 

But it is the bottom-up approach that is raised in this question--are there nonconscious influences (controlled or implanted by the society) that could/would somehow generate miracle stories from non-miracle stories, in non-pathological individuals?

 

 

Well, first we have to discuss/describe what we know about these unconscious processes…

 

One:  We might start with a fairly disturbing phenomenon that has recently emerged in the research: implicit stereotyping and prejudice. These operate at the nonconscious level and CLEARLY effect our judgments and related memories.

 

"Stereotypes are generic descriptions of past experiences that we use to categorize people and objects. Many social psychologists think of stereotypes as "energy-saving" devices that simplify the task of comprehending our social worlds. Because it may require considerable cognitive effort to size up every new person we meet as a unique individual, we often find it easier to fall back on stereotypical generalizations that accumulate from various sources, including discussions with other people, printed and electronic media, and firsthand experience. Though relying on such stereotypes may make our cognitive lives more manageable, it can also lead to undesirable outcomes: when a stereotype diverges from reality in a specific instance… the resulting biases can produce inaccurate judgments and unwarranted behavior." [CS:SSM:153]

 

"…discoveries of the implicit aspects of memory have exposed the substantial unconscious component of social beliefs as well…the past two decades have shown increasingly that both memory and belief also operate implicitly in powerful yet unconscious ways, outside the actor's awareness or control." [CS:MBB:140, "Implicit Stereotypes and Memory: The Bounded Rationality of Social Beliefs", by Banaji and Bhaskar]

 

"The main message of this new body of research is the inevitability of unconscious stereotyping and prejudice. The best of intentions do not and cannot override the unfolding of unconscious processing, for the triggers of automatic thought, feeling, and behavior live and breathe outside conscious awareness and control." [CS:MBB:142f, "Implicit Stereotypes and Memory: The Bounded Rationality of Social Beliefs", by Banaji and Bhaskar]

 

"Our position is that all humans are implicated to varying degrees in the operation of implicit stereotypes and prejudice. The pervasiveness of such expressions has been underestimated because large portions occur outside the awareness of control of both perceivers and targets." [CS:MBB:143, "Implicit Stereotypes and Memory: The Bounded Rationality of Social Beliefs", by Banaji and Bhaskar]

 

These are clearly social categories, and these categories are nonconsciously used to make memory judgments (e.g., criminality, status, gender behavior). On the basis of these nonconscious categories, people make attitude judgments and ascribe 'expected behavior' to individuals within the stereotypes. All of the behaviors and characteristics ascribed to some group, however, are those we have already seen or heard about enough to form automatically triggered nonconscious associations about that group.

 

This also applies to nonsocial categories as well, with the focus being on attitude toward, rather than events performed by (obviously):

 

"In fact, Greenwald and colleagues showed that the IAT task is a quite powerful indicator of automatic attitudes toward nonsocial categories such as insects versus flowers and weapons versus musical instruments, with the vast majority of participants showing favorable attitudes toward flowers and instruments." [CS:MBB:156, "Implicit Stereotypes and Memory: The Bounded Rationality of Social Beliefs", by Banaji and Bhaskar]

 

So, applying this in our case, we have to ask only one question: "was there a well-known social group in first-century, pre-Jesus Judea that performed frequent, varied, and local miracles, or which was consistently represented as such in the hearsay and media of the day?" If there was such a group, and this group had enough 'publicity' and exposure to create a nonconscious stereotype in the minds of the common populace of Judea/Galilee, then this is a meaningful question. If there was no such group--upon which to base a stereotype--then we can move on to the next sub-question.

 

Our studies so far in this series have indicated that no such group existed. We have seen that:

 

·         There was no widely-active category of miracle-worker in the G-R world of the period.

·         There was no widely-active category of miracle-working rabbi or holyman in Judaism of the period.

·         The 'sign prophets' (most of whom were after Jesus established the category) never did a single miracle.

·         None of the mainstream groups were candidates for this category (Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, etc).

·         The general belief of the day was that prophecy and the miraculous had 'ceased from Israel'.

·         Even messianic belief was not uniform in expecting a wonder-working messiah.

·         The 'media' of the day (e.g., Intertestamental lit, G-R lit, proto-rabbinics) did not feature or exhibit such a group.

 

The closest possible social groups we have are magicians and exorcists. These categories--if they were widely known enough to create an actual stereotype (in the cognitive psychology sense)--are not robust enough to 'predict' the wide range of miracles credited to Jesus. Exorcists did only one kind of 'miracle', of course, and therefore could not have been a base for some nonconscious 'creation' of non-exorcism miracles (e.g., nature miracles, revivification, many of the healings). Magicians used sorcery, normally for bringing a curse or misfortune on others (e.g., binding spells, crop failure, business failure, sickness), or for some time of 'overpowering' of others (e.g., love spell). If this was a social group/stereotype in the culture/period, this would not have 'predicted' almost any of Jesus' miracles. Furthermore, both the magicians and exorcists were more famous for their exotic incantations, rituals, amulets, etc than for 'results' (smile)--and none of these show up in the Jesus miracles. (Nonconscious "extrusions" from a theoretical magician and/or exorcist stereotype would likely have included these elements.) These are the only two categories that were actually 'experienced' enough in the period, to be possible candidates for a non-conscious stereotype. And these two categories do not seem to 'predict' the types of miracles credited to Jesus, arguing that these miracle stories were not 'created' by some unconscious stereotypical attribution process.

 

In other words, all the data we have from the period argues that no such social group existed, and that therefore, no such stereotype could be formed.

 

Accordingly, this stereotype could not have been developed until AFTER Jesus had done enough miracles (and they had been discussed widely enough) to create the memory associations to support this. [Theoretically, though, AFTER He had done enough miracles to create the stereotype, one could raise this question about LATER miracles. But without a  'critical mass' of miracle accounts in credible circulation, to create the experience base, this later problem could not have even emerged.]

 

Of course one could have understood a wonder-working Jesus upon experiencing Him, since the category of wonder-worker can be constructed conceptually at that time of experience. There were enough ancient examples of miracles in the Hebrew Bible to make the category comprehensible, but not enough current exemplars and/or discussed 'figures' to transform the conceptual category into a stereotype (as used by the cognitive psychologists of this discussion).

 

 

Two: All of the data we have about nonconscious processing indicates that  tends to be "conservative". That is, our data argues that nonconscious processing "moves" our memories in the direction of the ordinary, the expected, the familiar--and NOT in the direction of the extraordinary, the unexpected, the unfamiliar. Gaps in our knowledge are filled in from 'ordinary expectations'.

 

"Consider the following question: Do you recall that one page earlier in this book I confessed that I suffer from a multiple personality disorder, and that I actually have nineteen separate personalities, each with a different name? You can confidently assert that I never said any such thing because you invoke a distinctiveness heuristic: if I had made such a confession one page earlier, you would have been startled; surely you would possess a detailed recollection of what I wrote and how you reacted to it. We can invoke a distinctiveness heuristic whenever we expect that our memories will contain rich and detailed information about an experience. In experiments that use the Deese/Roediger-McDermott word associates procedure, however, people typically do not expect to retrieve distinctive recollections of specific words, and so are misled into falsely recognizing associates that they had never studied. But after studying pictures along with the words, participants expect more from their memories. They easily reject items that do not contain the distinctive pictorial information they are seeking - much as you easily rejected my assertion about multiple personalities." [CS:SSM:103]

 

"Students who read the proposal ending tended to recognize falsely incidents that had not actually occurred, but are expected precursors of a marriage proposal, such as 'Jack gave Barbara a ring,' 'Barbara and Jack dined by candlelight,' or 'Barbara wanted a family very much.'…The results suggest that as students tried to reconstruct what had happened in the original passage, they activated general knowledge related to the story ending that they had read…" [CS:SSM:148]

 

"In these studies (implanted memories) people are asked to think about long-past events, including some that they did not actually experience (going to the hospital with an ear infection or getting lost at a shopping mall). These tend to be events for which there is reasonably rich schematic or script knowledge (what hospitals and malls are like), which should make it relative easy for subjects to imagine specific details of the situation." [CS:MBB:50, Johnson and Raye]

 

"It is interesting to note in this regard that the memory biases of depressed patients described by Mineka and Nugent appear to reflect the excessive influence of preexisting knowledge. Activation of preexisting knowledge at the time of encoding is also implicated in various other memory illusions and biases (e.g., Alba and Hasher, 1983; Bransford and Franks, 1971; Roediger and McDermott, 1995)." [CS:MD:26]

 

"The final section of this chapter considers the relevance of multiple memory systems, memory consolidation, and source memory to the topic of accuracy and inaccuracy in memory. The fact that there are multiple memory systems, some of them nonconscious, means that humans express dispositions, habits, and preferences that are inaccessible to conscious recollection but that nevertheless arise from experience and influence our behavior. In other words, some of our actions and feelings, even though based on experience, are expressed implicitly without access to any conscious memory content. " [CS:MD:218, "Biological Foundations of Accuracy and Inaccuracy" , Larry Squire]

 

"Effects observed in recall are evident even when students are given a set of actions and asked to judge which ones were actually presented to them. These effects include the erroneous recall of unstated, typical script actions, the increase in such erroneous recall with increase in the time between presentation and recall, and their increase with the presentation of similar scripts." [HI:MOT:27]

 

"The scripts from our culture that have been studied by psychologists are dull sequences, not stories. By themselves, they are the things we learn to omit from conversation because the other person already knows them. It is, therefore, the deviations from these everyday scripts that are more likely to be recalled. In oral traditions this need not be the case. Nonetheless, studies of scripts from our culture were instructive in showing the kind of novelty in a story that is memorable. Bower et A. (1979) found that interruptions were recalled better than script actions, which were recalled better than extraneous statements. Bellezza and Bower (1982) found that normal script actions and script actions containing an atypical object were remembered equally well, and both were recalled better than actions that were atypical…Thus it appears that, at least with the dull scripts that describe everyday sequences, actions that interrupt the progress of the script are recalled better than actions that advance the script, and both of these types of actions are recalled better than irrelevant actions. Two factors are most likely at work here. First, and not specific to scripts, stimuli that are novel or discrepant with respect to the set of stimuli to be recalled tend to be recalled better (see Rubin & Corbett, 1982, for a review). Second, scripts provide the structure to cue recall. Actions that are unrelated to a script are not cued by the script and are therefore not as often recalled. Actions that interrupt the script are more difficult to overlook in using the script as a cue (Bellezza & Bower, 1982)." [HI:MOT:27]

 

"There are many subtle mechanisms that produce conservative behaviors and thereby constrain recall. Although not constraints in the same sense as theme, imagery, and sound pattern, they combine with such constraints to limit variability. For instance, without trying, people increase the frequency of, or mimic, words that they have just heard…There is also a strong tendency for people to mimic syntactic forms that have recently been produced…" [HI:MOT:116ff]

 

To paraphrase this data, we might offer this:

 

When we reconstruct memories, we assume that the ordinary occurred. Gaps in our knowledge are filled in from what we known 'normally' happens (e.g., from preexisting knowledge of those types of events--"scripts" in the psychological parlance). What our present selves contribute to memory reconstitution is based on our ordinary history and general knowledge of the world. The overwhelming majority of human experience is cause-effect, non-miraculous, and predictable. Memory errors occur in that 'bland' direction--not toward the unexpected, startling, miraculous. In fact, it is for this reason that striking events are the most memorable--they don't fit the 'script' and therefore have a shock value that increases their retention and recall.

 

 

We must remember that our studies so far showed that miracles were not a part of everyday experience, nor were they part of everyday expectations. When you thought of 'ordinary life', you did NOT include miracles in that scenario.

 

And oddly enough, this principle would argue that any fabricated events would REPLACE the startling, miraculous, unexpected:

 

"When events unfold in a way that contradicts our expectations based on stereotypes and related knowledge of the world, we may be biased to fabricate incidents that never happened in order to bring our memories in line with our expectations." [CS:SSM:156]

 

In other words, we might remove the miracles or we might 'dilute them' somehow, but we wouldn't add them or enhance them, by these nonconscious processes. These processes are essentially conservative, uniformitarian, and 'leveling'. They don't create the unfamiliar, abnormal, or unexpected.

 

 

Three: So far we have been talking about episodic memory (highly visual in nature). But another category of memory that is affected by preconscious process is semantic memory (more meaning and language oriented). The range of preconscious influence on semantic memory, however, is very, very limited and would not be very influential in these types of memory situations:

 

"It should be understood, however, that even if preconscious semantic processing is possible (as I believe the evidence now indicates), it is also clearly limited….Apparently, preconscious processing can extract the meaning of a single word, but it cannot construct the meaning of a two-word phrase. So, as Greenwald (1992) concludes, preconscious semantic processing is possible, but it is also analytically limited…Even though preconscious processing is limited, it can still have effects on experience, thought, and action in the social domain. A rapidly developing body of research shows that our feelings, social judgments, and interpersonal behaviors can be influenced by cues in the environment that are so subtle that we are not even aware of them, and pay them no attention…" (Kihlstrom: "Unconscious Processes in Social Interaction", in [CS:TSC:101,102])

 

"In their dealings with the psychological unconscious, psychologists have had to navigate between the Scylla of Von Hartmann, with his Romantic notion of an omnipotent and omniscient unconscious, and the Charybdis of sceptics, including Eriksen, Holender, and now Shanks and St. John, who wish to limit the unconscious to the unattended and unprocessed. As with most binary choices, there is a third way: a way which is open to the idea that unconscious percepts, memories and thoughts can influence conscious mental life, but which is also prepared to concede that the extent of this influence may well be limited. In the final analysis, it is probably the case that the limits on unconscious processing are set by the means by which the stimuli are rendered consciously inaccessible. In the case of preconscious processing, where the percept or its memory trace has been degraded by masking or by long retention intervals, or the processing capacity of the subject has been limited by divided attention, nonsemantic orienting tasks, sleep (or sleepiness), or general anesthesia, we would naturally expect the percept or memory to be limited to information about perceptual structure, or simple semantic features at best." (Kihlstrom," Implicit Perception and Learning", in [CS:TSOC:39])

 

 

 

Four. When we are talking about unintentional 'additions' of miraculous elements to existing non-miraculous stories/memories, the most likely way this could arise is through confabulation. Confabulation patterns, however, do not suggest that they can 'go this far'.

 

At the nonconscious level, creation/introduction of miraculous elements into a non-miraculous narrative could be done in one of three ways:

 

1.        Substitution--a miraculous event/action displaces an equivalent non-miraculous event, preserving the narrative structure of the story/event.

2.        Confabulation--a miraculous event/action is inserted into the story, to fill a gap in knowledge

3.        De Novo creation--the entire story, setting, plot, event, miracle, and outcome is created from scratch.

 

 

Number three--De Novo creation--is not actually in our area of discussion, since it is a case of delusion as opposed to memory change. Delusional people almost always manifest other neurotic ("failure to perform biologically or socially") symptoms. As noted above, this would not likely be an accurate description of the disciples/evangelists.

 

[Remember, we are talking about nonconscious de novo creation in this article, and NOT about some conscious fabrication to sell Jesus, to entertain dinner guests, or to calm fearful kids to sleep at bedtime. If someone makes up such stories in a conscious manner, they don't actually believe them; in the case we are talking about here--nonconscious creation--the speaker DOES believe them. In the case of the nonconscious de novo creation of entire stories, these individuals are typically considered pathological.]

 

 

Number one--substitution--is a possible option, but one which I have not seen advanced anywhere. I suspect the reason it is not considered seriously is due to the extreme difficulty of performing such a substitution, in a narrative structure. To take some non-miraculous  individual element in the story (e.g. Jesus walking along the shore to get to the boat) and displace it with a miraculous one (e.g. Jesus walking upon the water to get to the boat), typically throws the entire story out of whack--the subsequent acts within the narrative wouldn't be congruous with the new insertion.

 

For example, in the case of Jesus walking on the water (as an 'upgrade' to 'walking along the shore'), the element of 'shock' on the part of the disciples, and the entire story of Peter's try at "supra-hydro-ambulation" (sorry, I'm a little tired…smile) would ALSO have to be added. In other words, you cannot simply unconsciously replace an action that is important to the passage (i.e., connected via logic, imagery, conceptual structure, literary devices, and consequence) without having to change all the affected upstream and downstream connections too. Since the process of adjusting these surrounding details to 'fit' the new miraculous insertion would be a conscious act, the nonconscious insertion would then become explicit to the author/speaker, and the substitution would be detected/corrected/reversed. Hence, this possibility would be unlikely to occur, in tightly connected narrative structures.

 

 

Number two--confabulation--is the best 'candidate' for insertion of miraculous elements. A dictionary definition of it (from medhelp.org) is:

 

"Fabrication of detailed, plausible experiences and events to cover gaps in memory."

 

Confabulation is a serious issue in many brain pathologies, often with delusional-level fabrications. But it is also present in many small normal situations as well.

 

The definition above pointed out that confabulation is a gap-filler process, and that the subject fills these gaps with 'plausible' material. Let's look at some of the research results:

 

"…it is particularly temporal aspects of memory that are especially affected (by pathological confabulation)" [CS:MD:235]

 

"Temporal ordering and dating may be especially prone to confabulation…Confabulation about place is less readily elicited than that about time because associative retrieval is likely to be more effective in dealing with space than with time…" [CS:MD:240]

 

"…the more heavily recollection depends on reconstruction, the greater the possibility for distortion" [CS:MD:245]

 

"Research on normal people has suggested that distortion is more likely to occur if a memory is weak and its source is not known. This stands to reason because the worse the memory, the greater the need for reconstruction in order to fill the gaps in one's memory." [CS:MD:246]

 

 

What this means is that confabulation is only a problem when (a) there are pathological conditions; or (b) the memory is weak or incomplete. In the case of vivid, emotionally-charged, well-stored, frequently-used, personally experienced, and repeatedly rehearsed memories, confabulation is simply not a problem--there are no gaps to fill, no missing pieces in the reconstruction. And, from the above data on the 'leveling' effect of nonconscious processes, we would expect any gaps to be filled with 'ordinary and expected' material--precisely in line with the dictionary phrase "plausible experiences and events". In other words, nonconscious confabulation would not likely fill the gaps with miracles, unexpected events, or the types of wonders ascribed to Jesus, but instead with matters of time, place, and events in normal causal chains.

 

 

 

Five: If you look at the narrative features/character of the gospel narratives, the types of errors induced by nonconscious processing are generally inapplicable (or at least extremely minimized).

 

[I have already discussed a good bit of these issues at  Eyewitness Testimony (http://www.christian-thinktank.com/loftus.html), but here I will adduce some additional material and considerations.]

 

1. Many of these distortions only apply to long-distant memories, not to material that is current and used constantly. [The 'lost in a mall as a kid' false memory is a great example of this.]

 

"…even some normal adults can be induced to produce detailed, subjectively compelling false memories when asked about childhood events that never occurred, such as becoming lost in a shopping mall. " [CS:MD:22]

 

"…these results are important because they underscore the key role of expectancies in producing false memories. The mere suggestion that participants should expect to recall something from the first day of life was sufficient to lead half of an otherwise ordinary sample of introductory psychology students to believe that they had recovered a patently preposterous memory…Based on what I said in Chapter 4 about the distinctiveness heuristic and what we expect from our memories, it is perhaps not surprising that people readily come up with false memories from early childhood and infancy. Ordinarily we would not expect to recall the incidents of early life with vividness or clarity, in the same way that we would expect to do so for a recent event. It is extremely difficult to implant false memories of salient personal experiences that allegedly occurred yesterday, such as becoming lost in a shopping mall, because we expect to remember yesterday's events with some clarity and detail. For recent events, we can invoke a distinctiveness heuristic: if the suggested event had occurred, we would have remembered it vividly. But we expect little of recollections from early childhood and thus are more likely to interpret fuzzy images or vague feelings of familiarity as signs of an emerging memory, particularly if we are instructed to expect that such recollections are possible." [CS:SSM:128]

 

"In these studies (implanted memories) people are asked to think about long-past events, including some that they did not actually experience (going to the hospital with an ear infection or getting lost at a shopping mall). These tend to be events for which there is reasonably rich schematic or script knowledge (what hospitals and malls are like), which should make it relative easy for subjects to imagine specific details of the situation." [CS:MBB:50, Johnson and Raye]

 

"As noted earlier, in a study of memory for real-life experiences, Barclay and Wellman (1986) found that the incidence of false recollections increased systematically with the passage of time. Brainerd and colleagues (in press) and Reyna and Kiernan (1994) have recently provided similar evidence in a developmental study of false recognition (see also Pezdek and Roe, 1994). In addition, source amnesia is observed more frequently after long delays than after short delays (Schacter et al., 1984, 1991; Shimamura and Squire, 1991), and memory distortions that are attributable to source amnesia are observed most readily at long delays (e.g., Ceci, Chapter 3; Lindsay, 1990). Distortions that reflect the undue influence of preexisting semantic knowledge are also most apparent after long retention intervals." [CS:MD:26]

 

 

2. There are definite limits on the amount of distortion that can be implanted:

 

"A further question concerns whether people can falsely create an entire history of traumatic sexual abuse when none occurred. There is no hard scientific evidence that shows such a phenomenon unequivocally…Several chapters in this volume highlight the fact that under the conditions that prevail in controlled research studies, only a minority of healthy children and adults are prone to producing extensive false memories." [CS:MD:28,29]

 

"Of course, there may be limits to the kinds of memories that can be successfully suggested. In one study, for example, 15 percent of participants generated false recollections of being lost in a shopping mall, but none generated false memories of a childhood enema." [CS:SSM:126]

 

"It is extremely difficult to implant false memories of salient personal experiences that allegedly occurred yesterday, such as becoming lost in a shopping mall, because we expect to remember yesterday's events with some clarity and detail. For recent events, we can invoke a distinctiveness heuristic: if the suggested event had occurred, we would have remembered it vividly. But we expect little of recollections from early childhood and thus are more likely to interpret fuzzy images or vague feelings of familiarity as signs of an emerging memory, particularly if we are instructed to expect that such recollections are possible." [CS:SSM:128]

 

 

3. The distinctive (and unexpected character) of Jesus' life and miracles would have produced quite resilient memories, as all such 'stand-out' memories do:

 

"Consider the following question: Do you recall that one page earlier in this book I confessed that I suffer from a multiple personality disorder, and that I actually have nineteen separate personalities, each with a different name? You can confidently assert that I never said any such thing because you invoke a distinctiveness heuristic: if I had made such a confession one page earlier, you would have been startled; surely you would possess a detailed recollection of what I wrote and how you reacted to it. We can invoke a distinctiveness heuristic whenever we expect that our memories will contain rich and detailed information about an experience. In experiments that use the Deese/Roediger-McDermott word associates procedure, however, people typically do not expect to retrieve distinctive recollections of specific words, and so are misled into falsely recognizing associates that they had never studied. But after studying pictures along with the words, participants expect more from their memories. They easily reject items that do not contain the distinctive pictorial information they are seeking - much as you easily rejected my assertion about multiple personalities." [CS:SSM:103]

 

"The scripts from our culture that have been studied by psychologists are dull sequences, not stories. By themselves, they are the things we learn to omit from conversation because the other person already knows them. It is, therefore, the deviations from these everyday scripts that are more likely to be recalled. In oral traditions this need not be the case. Nonetheless, studies of scripts from our culture we instructive in showing the kind of novelty in a story that is memorable. Bower et A. (1979) found that interruptions were recalled better than script actions, which were recalled better than extraneous statements. Bellezza and Bower (1982) found that normal script actions and script actions containing an atypical object were remembered equally well, and both were recalled better than actions that were atypical…Thus it appears that, at least with the dull scripts that describe everyday sequences, actions that interrupt the progress of the script are recalled better than actions that advance the script, and both of these types of actions are recalled better than irrelevant actions. Two factors are most likely at work here. First, and not specific to scripts, stimuli that are novel or discrepant with respect to the set of stimuli to be recalled tend to be recalled better (see Rubin & Corbett, 1982, for a review). Second, scripts provide the structure to cue recall. Actions that are unrelated to a script are not cued by the script and are therefore not as often recalled. Actions that interrupt the script are more difficult to overlook in using the script as a cue (Bellezza & Bower, 1982)." [HI:MOT:27]

 

 

4. The fact that the miracles would have been quite emotionally-charged events (for both the disciples and the other participants/recipients) would have created stronger memories, especially of the central elements (i.e., the miracles):

 

"Everyday experience and laboratory studies reveal that emotionally changed incidents are better remembered than nonemotional events. The emotional boost begins at the moment that a memory is born, when attention and elaboration strongly influence whether an experience will be subsequently remembered or forgotten." [CS:SSM:163]

 

"Psychologists call this phenomenon "weapon focus.' The emotionally arousing object draws attention automatically, leaving few resources to help encode the rest of the scene. Experiments have shown that people usually remember well the central focus of an emotionally arousing incident, at the expense of poor memory for peripheral detailsThe benefits of emotional arousal for subsequent memory extend to both positive and negative events: we remember more high and low moments from our lives than mundane ones. And positive experiences, just like negative experiences, tend to be remembered involuntarily and intrusively. Roughly 90 percent of college students who recorded emotional incidents in a diary reported that they later experienced at least some intrusive memories for both positive and negative events, with more intense emotions producing more frequent intrusive memories." [CS:SSM:164]

 

"There has also been a growing body of laboratory research on memory for emotionally arousing events, which indicates that emotional arousal typically enhances the accuracy of memory for the central aspects of an event and impairs memory for more peripheral details." [CS:MD:18]

 

"Many of our experiences are single events or brief episodes. Such experiences are generally quickly forgotten or, at best, poorly remembered. However, under some conditions events and episodes can be well-remembered even if they are not repeated. We have many lasting memories of important pleasant events such as birthdays, weddings and holiday celebrations. We also have strong memories of unpleasant events such as personal embarrassments, accidents and deaths of loved ones. Some episodes in our lives appear to be almost indelibly recorded (LeDoux, 1992b). " [CS:MD:255] (Note that this would also apply to the Peter's Denial of Jesus and the "Get thee behind me, Satan" type passages for Peter.)

 

"However, as summarized above, the general hypothesis that emotional arousal influences the memory of briefly experienced events is also strongly supported by extensive evidence provided by experiments using animal as well as human subjects in which the physiological responses activated by learning experiences were directly modulated by hormones and drugs. Moreover, such research has provided insights into the neuromodulatory systems regulating the influence of emotional arousal on memory. Hormones released by arousing experiences activate the amygdala, a brain region that is known to be involved in both emotion and memory. The amygdala, in turn, regulates the consolidation of lasting memory traces in other brain regions. The orchestration of these systems thus appears to provide a mechanism for varying the strength of memory in relation to the significance of experience. The resulting memories are distorted only in the sense that their strengths have been modulated. Moreover, recalled memories strengthened by such post-learning modulation may be less susceptible to the creative (i.e., distorting) processes of remembering." [CS:MD:267]

 

 

5. The vast majority of these nonconscious memory errors are NOT 'event creation'--they deal with attitudes, setting, reasons, etc. instead of with events:

 

"Judgments about sports events and the O.J. trial illustrate a familiar occurrence in everyday life: once we learn the outcome of an event, we feel as though we always knew what would happen. Called hindsight bias by psychologists, this tendency to see an outcome as inevitable in retrospect is a close cousin of consistency bias: we reconstruct the past to make it consistent with what we know in the present…Hindsight bias, then, is ubiquitous: people seem almost driven to reconstruct the past to fit what they know in the present. In light of the known outcome, people can more easily retrieve incidents and examples that confirm it." [CS:SSM:146f]  (Note that these are REAL 'incidents and examples', not fabricated ones)

 

"Stereotypes are generic descriptions of past experiences that we use to categorize people and objects. Many social psychologists think of stereotypes as "energy-saving" devices that simplify the task of comprehending our social worlds. Because it may require considerable cognitive effort to size up every new person we meet as a unique individual, we often find it easier to fall back on stereotypical generalizations that accumulate from various sources, including discussions with other people, printed and electronic media, and firsthand experience." [CS:SSM:153]

 

"Psychologists call this phenomenon "weapon focus.' The emotionally arousing object draws attention automatically, leaving few resources to help encode the rest of the scene. Experiments have shown that people usually remember well the central focus of an emotionally arousing incident, at the expense of poor memory for peripheral details…" [CS:SSM:164]

 

"In fact, Greenwald and colleagues showed that the IAT task is a quite powerful indicator of automatic attitudes toward nonsocial categories such as insects versus flowers and weapons versus musical instruments, with the vast majority of participants showing favorable attitudes toward flowers and instruments." [CS:MBB:156, "Implicit Stereotypes and Memory: The Bounded Rationality of Social Beliefs", by Banaji and Bhaskar]

 

"Assume that a list of words, a story, or a poem is given to many people, and the ease, of recalling each unit (i.e., each word or each proposition or each line) is expressed as the proportion of people who remember that unit. It is an empirical observation that the rank order of units from most to least likely to be remembered is constant over a wide range of conditions…This is an important finding because it means that in making predictions about what will be remembered, the amount of time that passes between encoding and recall will affect how much is remembered, but not the relative likelihood of which particular units will be remembered. This finding is counter to the intuitions and interpretations of many psychologists who expected one kind of unit or another to drop out differentially with the passage of time...It is true, for instance, that details will be forgotten first, but only to the extent that they were less likely to be recalled in the first place." [HI:MOT:156]

 

 

6. The frequent usage, rehearsal, teaching, and reflection on the gospels stories--from their first experience until their written form--would create strong, resilient memories, with strong bindings between the elements:

 

"These issues lead naturally to another critical question that is raised in a number of the chapters: Under what conditions is memory largely accurate, and under what conditions is distortion most likely to occur? Although this volume is concerned primarily with understanding distortion, it must be emphasized again that memory is quite accurate in many situations. It is unlikely that a memory system that consistently produced seriously distorted outputs would possess the adaptive characteristics necessary to be preserved by natural selection. Therefore, the key issue is not whether memory is 'mostly accurate" or "mostly distorted"; rather, the challenge is to specify the conditions under which accuracy and distortion are most likely to be observedOne idea suggested in a number of chapters is that "strong" memories--well encoded or frequently rehearsed information, for example--are less likely to exhibit distortion than are "weak" memories. Stated in slightly different terms, when a stored representation or engram is held together by strong connections among its constituent features, it may be less susceptible to distorting influences than when the connections are weak. Thus, distortion might be particularly pronounced when recall is attempted long after a single experience that has not been retrieved or thought about in the interim, or when an experience was not particularly well encoded at the outset." [CS:MD:25]

 

"Features that are poorly bound to other features of an event during initial encoding or not consolidated afterward will be poor cues for those other features later. Features of episodes may be poorly bound for any of a number of reasons, including distraction during encoding or failure to think about the event subsequently." [CS:MBB:44, Johnson and Raye]

 

"If associated details are bound together with an object or action, it becomes easier to recall whether an incident actually occurred." [CS:SSM:95]

 

"If individual features of the words or faces are retained, but are not bound together adequately when people initially study them, memory conjunction errors can result." [CS:SSM:95]

 

"From the earliest scientific studies of memory, it has been known that recitation, the technical term for the mixing of text trials with study trails, aids learning. The size of the effect is substantial in organized material…" [HI:MOT:129]

 

 

 

There are serious legal, human, and moral consequences of false memories--as memory researchers are quite aware. And research into causes of memory errors is essential to bring more clarity into the use of memories in "diseased" situations (e.g., criminal accusations, early-age abuse, social discrimination). These researchers, however, often try to 'calm the reader down' about memory error, by pointing out how 'good' normal memory really is--trying to get us to keep this in perspective:

 

 

·         "In light of other experiments showing that post-event information does not necessarily eliminate the original memory, it is now clear that failures of source memory are a major contributor to memory distortions that are produced by post-event misinformation." [CS:MD:14f]

 

·         "These issues lead naturally to another critical question that is raised in a number of the chapters: Under what conditions is memory largely accurate, and under what conditions is distortion most likely to occur? Although this volume is concerned primarily with understanding distortion, it must be emphasized again that memory is quite accurate in many situations. It is unlikely that a memory system that consistently produced seriously distorted outputs would possess the adaptive characteristics necessary to be preserved by natural selection." [CS:MD:25]

 

·         "The question to be asked, given that the memory system is organized in this way, is why memory is as good as it is. ." [CS:MD:246f]

 

·         "However, as summarized above, the general hypothesis that emotional arousal influences the memory of briefly experienced events is also strongly supported by extensive evidence provided by experiments using animal as well as human subjects in which the physiological responses activated by learning experiences were directly modulated by hormones and drugs. Moreover, such research has provided insights into the neuromodulatory systems regulating the influence of emotional arousal on memory. Hormones released by arousing experiences activate the amygdala, a brain region that is known to be involved in both emotion and memory. The amygdala, in turn, regulates the consolidation of lasting memory traces in other brain regions. The orchestration of these systems thus appears to provide a mechanism for varying the strength of memory in relation to the significance of experience. The resulting memories are distorted only in the sense that their strengths have been modulated. Moreover, recalled memories strengthened by such post-learning modulation may be less susceptible to the creative (i.e., distorting) processes of remembering." [CS:MD:267]

 

·         "First, memory expertise is an everyday result of routine cognitive processes (e.g., James, 1890; Neisser, 1982). Everyone is a memory expert in many areas. We are in awe of memory expertise only when it occurs for unusual tasks and domains, ignoring the more common occurrences. As Harlow (1949) notes, expertise is part of the normal course of development. Thus the memory feats of oral poets, though impressive, may be no more amazing than those of a chess master, a mental calculator, or an expert in any field of knowledge such as cognitive psychology, folklore, classics, automobile repair, or baseball statistics." [HI:MOT:169]

 

·         "Assume that a list of words, a story, or a poem is given to many people, and the ease, of recalling each unit (i.e., each word or each proposition or each line) is expressed as the proportion of people who remember that unit. It is an empirical observation that the rank order of units from most to least likely to be remembered is constant over a wide range of conditions…This is an important finding because it means that in making predictions about what will be remembered, the amount of time that passes between encoding and recall will affect how much is remembered, but not the relative likelihood of which particular units will be remembered. This finding is counter to the intuitions and interpretations of many psychologists who expected one kind of unit or another to drop out differentially with the passage of time...It is true, for instance, that details will be forgotten first, but only to the extent that they were less likely to be recalled in the first place." [HI:MOT:156]

 

 

This last point is worth commenting on. Rubin pointed out that though time might diminish the amount of information remembered about an event, it would NOT affect the 'contour' of the memory. The most important element in the memory would be the last element to be forgotten. The order-of-importance was maintained, irrespective of loss of detail. The less important would be forgotten first. This is a surprisingly strong argument for the reliability of a good memory, even without reinforcement techniques. Notice how widespread this was:

 

"The age of the people recalling stories, at least from second graders to 60-year-olds, presents a picture similar to that presented by retention-interval studies, according to a reanalysis of 12 studies (Rubin, 1985; Stine & Wingfield, 1990).  Similarly, a reanalysis of 10 studies that compared people differing along dimensions other than age supports the notion that the same rank order of units from most to least likely to be recalled will be remembered from stories by most people, even when there are large differences in the amount recalled. In these studies, schizophrenics, Korsakoff amnesiacs, memory-impaired elderly, language-impaired individuals, people with different reading and verbal-ability levels, and people with different literacy levels were compared with appropriate control groups. Further work with persons with Alzheimer's disease, multi-infarct dementia, closed-head injury, metabolic disorders, and affective disorders produced similar results (Schultz, Schmitt, Logue, & Rubin, 1986)…The factor that determines the overall amount of recall is affected by retention interval, motivation to learn, age, and clinical syndrome. The factor that determines the probability of recall of an item relative to other items is not affected by these variables." [HI:MOT:157]

 

BTW, this would imply, for biblical studies, that even flawed transmission of a miracle story of Jesus could still be trusted about the miracle (central content) long after the details of setting, time, dialogue, characters, etc had become suspect. Even a deep-errancy view of the gospels could still maintain that the core content (including miracles) of the Jesus narratives was still historical, and therefore still evidence of the supernatural (all other things being considered, of course).

 

 

 

The above comments apply to everyday memory usage and normal memory 'content',  but there are some bodies of material that evince even higher levels of accuracy, stability, and reliability. Oral tradition is one such area, and it is generally accepted that parts of the gospel narratives circulated as oral tradition (with or without written adjuncts). One cognitive psychologist who has applied memory studies/theory to oral tradition is David C. Ruben of Duke University. His research into three genres of oral tradition (epic, ballads, and counting-out rhymes) highlights some of the differences between oral tradition/transmission and its 'weaker cousin', laboratory experiments(!):

 

·         "What we knew about memory from the theories and methods of cognitive psychology came mostly from people and situations in which memory performance was not impressive. Here (oral tradition) was a case where memory worked extraordinarily well." [HI:MOT:iv]

 

·         "Nonetheless, there are great differences in stability between oral traditions and most everyday activity. Consider our most common analog. The changes that occur in the transmission of rumors in the laboratory are so great that after a message passes through a handful of people, it is often difficult to see any relation to the original. In the laboratory, the message shortens, details are dropped, and changes in meaning are introduced. Oral traditions are much more stable." [HI:MOT:7f]

 

·         "..that is, the transmission of oral traditions must yield results very different from those obtained by the standard rumor procedure in psychology, or the traditions would have changed radically or died out. Oral traditions must, therefore, have developed forms of organization (i.e., rules, redundancies, constraints) and strategies to decrease the changes that human memory imposes on the more casual transmission of verbal material." [HI:MOT:10]

 

·         "In the laboratory, it has been customary to pass a piece from one person to the next with no individual seeing more than over version of the piece…In oral traditions, it would be unusual for this pattern to occur. Many versions of the same piece are heard, often from different people." [HI:MOT:133]

 

·         "These same conditions of overlearning, spaced practice, and recitation are normal consequences of the transmission of an oral tradition…The paths along which information travels in oral traditions are much more complex than those that have been used to simulate transmission in the laboratory, and this complexity leads to greater stability of transmission than would be expected from laboratory research." [HI:MOT:144]

 

In other words, the experiences of memory failure and transmission distortion we have as moderns have almost no relevance to the material under discussion. The old 'telephone game' model of the transmission of the bible (to cite just one example) is totally inapplicable to the gospel literature. The nature of oral tradition (and its later cousin, written literature)  is specifically designed to 'compensate for' memory frailty. The rules, genre bounds, redundancies, and constraints all work together to preclude unconscious 'innovations' from surfacing (or at least from surviving) in the transmission process.

 

 

 

…………………………………………………………………..

 

Summary:

 

1.        There is no commonly agreed upon definition of the Jungian archetypal hero for Jesus to 'match'.

2.        The existing hero myths do not fit any of the rival Jungian hero archetypes.

3.        The miracles of Jesus do not fit into 'hero' models anyway--miracles are not part of the (epic) heroic structure.

4.        The effects of grief processes on memory are that of forgetting and/or ignoring--NOT of creating new historical deeds, especially not of creating miraculous deeds of the deceased.

5.        The effects of trauma processes on memory would be to indelible-ize central aspects of the experience of Jesus--NOT create free memories. Trauma processes strengthen central memories, and sometime diminish the strength of peripheral memories.

6.        Trauma strengthens existing memories, instead of creating new ones.

7.        Top-down social/cultural influence on the brain/mind/memory is not documented and/or understood well enough to arrive at conclusions about this.

8.        Bottom-up, nonconscious processes are known to effect judgment, memory, and social behaviors.

9.        Nonconscious Stereotyping is well documented, but would not apply to our first-century situation since there were no relevant social groups that would qualify for becoming stereotyped in this sense of the word. Therefore, there would be no 'social forces' to 'suggest to the conscious' that Jesus was a miracle-worker.

10.     The lack of appropriate social group (of Jesus-like wonder workers) precludes the operation of nonconscious stereotyping to create miracle judgments about Jesus.

11.     The two closest categories--magicians and exorcists--were not robust enough in their miracle portfolio to form such a relevant social group.

12.     All of the data we have about nonconscious processing indicates that these processes are conservative, and that they 'suggest' the ordinary, the expected, the familiar. They do NOT 'suggest to memory' the miraculous, the unexpected, the startling.

13.     All such 'interpolations' and 'contributions' such processes make to reconstructed memories are of the everyday experience type--NOT the miraculous (it was not an aspect of common experience of the day).

14.     The influence of preconscious processing on semantic memory is very, very limited.

15.     Confabulation in normal humans--the mixing of true and false elements in a constructed memory--also manifests this 'conservative' and 'ordinary' orientation. When confab is used to 'fill a gap', it does so with 'plausible' and ordinary 'filler'.

16.     Confabulation is mostly about temporal sequence, dating, and place; and NOT about adding miracles to existing narratives.

17.     Confabulation is needed/appears only were the memories are weak (or have 'holes' in them). Recent and vivid memories by the disciples, of the miraculous events in Jesus' life, would be difficult to characterize as being 'weak'.

18.     Memory distortions are more relevant to older, childhood memories than to recent, young adult memories.

19.     There are significant limits to how much distortion can be 'engineered' into normal, healthy adults.

20.     The miracles would have produced distinctive and startling memories, which would resist distortion.

21.     The miracles would have produced emotionally-charged memories, which would resist distortion.

22.     The vast majority of nonconscious influences have to do with attitudes, perspectives, and relationships--NOT with creation of vivid/narrative events.

23.     The pattern of usage of the disciple's memories would have created strong, resilient, and resistant-to-distortion memories.

24.     Memory researchers are quick to point out that "unmolested" memory can be highly accurate.

25.     As good as normal memory can be, memory in oral tradition is significantly better and more stable than what we find in the laboratory and in real life.

 

 

Accordingly, I have to conclude that the data does not support the belief that unconscious forces (from the culture, from Jungian-type archetypes, grief/trauma) modified true memories of non-miraculous events in the life of Jesus into false memories of miraculous events, via the creation of miraculous additions to the non-miraculous memories?

 

 

On to the next one…

 

Glenn Miller

May 6, 2002


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