Sunday, September 16, 2007

Everyday Confabulation

When I started taking abnormal psychology and studying all of these different diseases, I was convinced that I suffered from every single one. It wasn't until my professor explained that everyone expresses certain symptions or tendenacies but that those suffereing from mental illness exhibit them on a scale much higher than the "average person." So, apparently, the only thing I really was suffering from was hypochondria or maybe I'm allergic to suggestion. It was quite interesting to me today to find that that these small white lies I've told my whole life (yes, I did my homework; I totally called you yesterday; I lost track of time) actually stem from somewhere: confabulation.

Now, me, I'm an actor so I have always leaned towards embellishment, even with the smallest story. My goal has always been to make people to have good time, to simply entertain. Of this (Which I hate to admit) I've always been aware but I hadn't realized that I did it to myself. All of these internalizations and rationalizations. "This happened because of this; he didn't mean to be so rude it's because he's having a bad day; you didn't get the part but it's not because you're a good actor." To me a day without rationalizations can be quite depressing! We tell ourselves these stories to keep going. Well, we tend to confuse ourselves and our narrative with these confabulations.

I know that sometimes I've told a story to people and I've had to work it into my narrative because that's part of how they percieve me, or they ask me to tell it again or they have told others. Now clearly I know that these things MOSTLY aren't true. This may be philosophical but is this confabulation or truth because that's where it's been based or simply wrong. Consider this in both ways, involving me and those the story gets to. For me there may be doubt (Which is the main point that kills confabulation) but what about the people who hear the story? They have no doubt because they have no reason to, so for them what would it be?

Consider this excerpt from the essay when looking at my next few questions, " Our fundamental tactic of self-protection, self-control, and self-definition is not spinning webs, but telling stories, and more particularly concocting and controlling the story we tell others-- and others-- about who we are" (5).

Okay, I'll be the first to admit it. I lie sometimes, I fib and I completely embellish. My question is why? Are we trying to assert some kind of control over an otherwise unpredictable and uncontroable world? Improve ourselves around others? Edit history to our liking? Don a facade that really isn't like our own?

Enjoy the weekend,


Lauren S said...


This week I had a migraine for the first time in fourteen years and had to wonder if all of this reading about brain disorders somehow helped bring it on--so I know where you're coming from with the hypochondria!

One thing about confabulation that struck me while I read Hirstein--and you reminded me of it again when you wrote "We tend to confuse ourselves and our narrative with these confabulations"--is how it relates to identity: When a person loses his or her memory, or can't explain something that occured in his or her life, the person confabulates to fill in the blanks. If memories and experiences make people who they are, and they lose their grasp on those foundations of personality, confabulation isn't just something they do: "a confabulator" is what they become. In part, anyway. My grandmother has been making things up for years and she is still more than simply a person who confabulates. But it has defined her.

I didn't think of a connection between white lies and confabulation before reading your response but it is easy to compare the two. When you embellish a story you tell over and over again you do eventually forget what is truth and what is created, and believe your entire accounting; and I suppose the original embellishment was added to deceive the listener, but it's a benign sort of deceit.

At least we can examine the whys of lying and keep ourselves honest (honest to ourselves, anyway). Once we're at the point of confabulation we won't know we're doing it and therefore can't analyze it...

Stephanie said...

This brings to mind the political culture that we live in, which can probably be summed up in good episode of the Colbert Report. Lies can become truth in people's minds if the lies are repeated enough.

And what about the transcendent truth? I read a short story where a boy would lie about his grandfather's achievements and create stories that his grandfather saved people's lives in all kinds of dramatic scenes. In reality, this never happened, but in the boy's mind, it might as well have, since he viewed his grandfather as a hero. Emotionally, his grandfather saved his life, so the metaphorical lie represented more of the truth than actually telling the truth itself.

That sounds kinda confusing. It made better sense in the story.

Also, I worked on this concert film where the noise from the audience was not picked up on the microphone as loudly as it sounded at the concert. The director decided to reshoot the audio with a new audience and overdub this new audio into the film. I felt like this was kind of sketchy for a documentary, but the assistant editor defended this practice by saying that, even though it was not real, it would give a better depiction of the real, which is all that ultimately mattered. I think I still disagree with this in theory, though it's different on a real documentary. A concert film doesn't quite matter as much, I think.

This was kinda off topic, wasn't it? I apologize.

Emmy P. said...

When discussing confabulation I often wonder why we can only be at peace when we have explanation (which I suppose is ironic). Why is it in our nature to necessitate reason and why do we feel at loss without it? It is self-evident that we live in a world where seemingly unpredictable things happen and long to understand them. It is apparent through philosophy, science, religion and other mediums humans need to understand their environment.

Confabulation seems to have been a process created, so that when we cannot find a logical explanation, we superficially create one. What I don't understand is, why this process is necessary. Is it possible that we need to have the drive to ask questions and discover answers in order for our species to survive? That the longing we have for explanation is needed for us to advance further and the only way to balance this desire when it isn't fulfilled is through confabulation?

Would a mind with out confabulation be thrown into insanity? Imagine all the things one has done in their life, it's obvious after time our memories wear thin and we cannot remember why we've done these things, we cannot make the connection as to why one event led to another and confabulation allows us to logically fill in the gaps. Now, imagine if we could not do this, if we could not find reason in all that we've done. Would we be able to function without confabulation? Would we be in a constant distress?