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omif » Open Mouth Insert Foot

I was just researching a great quote from Abraham Lincoln:

I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.

Turns out it was in a letter to the editor, a Mr. Ford, editor of the Lacon Illinois Gazette in Marshall County in 1846 referring to rumors of his ‘scoffing at Christianity’.

I like that quote, and am of the firm opinion that it applies to many people who we call birthers, but even more so to the charlatans that egg them on. Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly (who had a book ghostwritten about Lincoln), etc are absolute past masters.

Anyway, during the research, I came up with interesting citation in a book titled “Brain Fiction: Self-deception and the Riddle of Confabulation” by William Hirstein (MIT Press).

Great word that, “Confabulation”. I had to look it up to formalize my internal definition; so from Wikipedia:


In psychology, confabulation (verb: confabulate) is a memory disturbance, defined as the production of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intention to deceive. Confabulation is distinguished from lying as there is no intent to deceive and the person is unaware the information is false. Although individuals can present blatantly false information, confabulation can also seem to be coherent, internally consistent, and relatively normal. Individuals who confabulate present incorrect memories ranging from “subtle alterations to bizarre fabrications”, and are generally very confident about their recollections, despite contradictory evidence. Most known cases of confabulation are symptomatic of brain damage or dementias, such as aneurysm, Alzheimer’s disease, or Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (a common manifestation of thiamine deficiency caused by alcoholism).

Two types of confabulation are often distinguished:

Provoked (momentary, or secondary) confabulations represent a normal response to a faulty memory, are common in both amnesia and dementia,[6] and can become apparent during memory tests.

Spontaneous (or primary) confabulations do not occur in response to a cue and seem to be involuntary. They are relatively rare, more common in cases of dementia, and may result from the interaction between frontal lobe pathology and organic amnesia.

Another distinction is that between verbal and behavioral confabulations. Verbal confabulations are spoken false memories and are more common, while behavioral confabulations occur when an individual acts on their false memories.

Confabulated memories of all types most often occur in autobiographical memory, and are indicative of a complicated and intricate process that can be led astray at any point during encoding, storage, or recall of a memory. This type of confabulation is commonly seen in Korsakoff’s syndrome.

I note, and you can take this for what it is worth, Korsakoff’s syndrome is linked to chronic alcohol abuse or severe malnutrition, or both.

The reference to Lincoln’s quote (in Brain Fiction…) is here. Hirstein goes on to say that

When we call someone confabulatory because we notice that the first memory claim he made is false, followed by a second or third false claim, we are assessing the credibility of the patient. One’s credibility is not automatically zero after the first false claim, but it drops in a continuous manner toward zero with further false claims. Once a person has produced enough false claims, we regard him as confabulatory. THis implies that we are using the falsity as an indicator of something more crucial – the groundedness of the claims. The idea that confabulations are fictional might be of some use here, since works of fiction often contain true statements,  for instance when they contain actual historical characters.

If this sounds familiar, like say with articles in blogs like World “News” Daily or Posters on conspiracy theory honey pots like “Above Top Secret”, or from loudmouth talking head shocktalk TV/Radio/Podcast, at least you can rest assured that there are scientists like Hirstein that take this stuff as material for serious research.

So, the question remains: is the birther statement “we were all taught that you had to have TWO citizen parents in order to be NBC” a confabulation or a lie?



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