“Why Our Memory Fails Us” Rhetorical Analysis



In the New York Times article “Why Our Memory Fails Us”, written by Christopher F. Chabris and Daniel J. Simons.FRAGMENT Both writers analyze the science of memory distortion, and how this can affect the way we recall or own memories. The writer’s purpose is to use logical reasoning through the evidence of statistical facts and case studies. To have readers gain a better understanding of how memory distortion can cause our recollection of facts to be inaccurate.

             Chabris and Daniel begin their argument by acknowledging the time astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, experienced memory distortion. When he claimed a prejudice quote was made by President Bush on 9/11. According to Dr. Tyson, the quote was meant to distinguish Christian Americans from Muslims. He claimed President Bush said “Our God is the God who named the stars.” After critics investigated Dr. Tyson’s claim, they found no evidence of the president making that statement. Causing the credibility of Dr. Tyson to be questioned by many individuals. Both Chabris and Davis use this example to build their argument.


            The writers are using logical reasoning to the readers, in order to build their case on the problems of relying on one’s memory. Statistical facts and case studies are used to further examine ways in which memory distortion can cloud the way we retrieve facts. An example of this was the case study done by psychologists, Henry Roediger and Andrew DeSoto. The results of this case study showed that when people were highly confident in their memories, they were able to recall more facts accurately. However, the study also showed that even if individuals had a high confidence in their memories. There still seemed to be a lower accuracy in facts.


            Chabris and Daniel avoid playing on the emotions of the audience to drive their argument. GOOD. Instead they rely on expert testimony and reliable sources to make their argument more credible. A testimony was given by psychologist Frederic Charles, who conducted experiments to test a theory. The theory was that the content of memories can change over time. His experiments which he applied to the telephone game, revealed the more the message traveled from one person to another. The message became distorted and sometimes key elements of the message would remain or disappear.


            The writers create a tactful tone when building their case on memory distortion. They are careful with the order in which their arguments are presented. Making sure they include logical reasoning, case studies and facts to follow their claims. Through the use of this tactful tone a case is made that those who experience memory distortion, aren’t intentionally giving falsified facts. So they suggest to readers to be understanding to those mistakes and positively acknowledge them for correcting their mistakes. However, that does not mean we should defend false memory when there is evidence to contradict it.


            The top three comments in the reader’s picks section, were found to be the most convincing by readers. The first two commenters appealed to the logical reasoning of the readers. The first comment was given by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who happens to be one of the subjects in the article. In his comment he uses logical reasoning to let the readers know that in fact he did not misquote the president’s statement. Instead he mistakenly confused the date he said it. Claiming the statement appears in his Columbia Shuttle disaster speech a few months after 9/11. For this mistake Tyson formally apologizes to the president. The second comment was done by Keith Dow. In his comment he claims that Chabris and Simon’s statement about President Bush being intelligent is false. He uses emotional appeal and logical reasoning by providing numerous quotes made by the president. To support his claim and make his argument more effective.


            The third commenter relied on appealing to the feeling and emotions of the audience. Jacob Sommer’s appeals to those readers who have made inaccurate statements because of memory distortion. He claims that it is okay for individuals to make honest mistakes, without their being harmful intent behind it. The NYT picks are different from the reader’s picks, as the top three comments take on a more biased tone and rely on their emotions. The Times approach to ranking comments is very effective and much needed. It prevents the comments section from becoming a “flame war” of individuals bashing each other and their opinions. Most importantly, it leaves room for people who actually do want to address the issues. Or engage in a productive conversation with the writer.



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