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Garth SundemRSS Feed of this column.

Garth Sundem is a Science, Math and general Geek Culture writer, TED speaker, and author of books including Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Dish the Lab-Tested Secrets of Surfing, Dating, Dieting... Read More »

Yesterday I posted about how Elizabeth Loftus is able to Jedi mind trick our interpretations of memories, but what about creating entirely new memories?

Oh yeah, baby. Actually, making a false memory is pretty easy. Loftus describes a father convincing his daughter she’d gotten lost in a mall when she was five years old. At first, the daughter denied any memory of the event, but as the father provided more fake details—“Don’t you remember that I told you we would meet at the Tug Boat”—the daughter began to “remember” and even provide details of her own. Eventually when her father said “I was so scared,” she responded “Not as scared as I was!”
In the next three days, I'll out the work mostly of Elizabeth Loftus, who describes how and when our memories misfire—in cool and interesting ways—ways, you can use to create the realities you want in unsuspecting friends and family.

Part I:
When we store events in our memories, we tag them with keywords. Was the rollercoaster ride exciting, or scary? Was the dip in the pool cold, or invigorating? Then when we encounter a similar situation, we run a quick keyword search of our memory to help us interpret the new event. Whether you go on the rollercoaster or jump in the pool depends on how you tagged these experiences last time.
Did you find yesterday's personalized horoscope spookily accurate? Isn't it amazing how precisely the websites you visit allow description of who you are?

In fact (as many of you guessed), it's a trick.
The following is a horoscope based on the specific personality type common to users of After reading, please comment your evaluation of its accuracy. Then come back tomorrow for post discussing the methodology of accurately modeling group personality based on website preference. 

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them.
Do you remember Stanley Milgram's famous authority experiments that found participants were willing to shock the living hell out of people if ordered to do so?

If you’re not familiar with this, just google “Milgram experiment” and get ready for some scary reading. If you ARE familiar with this, check out this link to a Washington Post article which describes a recent French reality show that found contestants willing to kill for cash.  Here is a BBC excerpt on Milgram's work.
Yesterday I posted the rules of the very cool Kuhn poker. Here's optimal play:

Playing first:
Interestingly, you can either check or bet a King or a Jack—this is poker, after all and in this case bluffing/slow-playing is as good as playing your cards straight. But holding a Queen is tricky: If you bet, your opponent folds with a Jack or raises with a King. Half the time, you win your opponent's one-chip ante, and half the time you lose your ante plus your bet.

This is not good. In fact, it's bad. You're losing twice as many chips as you're winning.

So you check.