Remembering The Same Event Differently? That's The Rashomon Effect.

Have you ever left a party and immediately started recounting how rude the host was to you, only to have your friend look at you puzzled and recount the very same conversation—only with the host being warm and friendly? That's an everyday version of the Rashomon effect, a phenomenon where different people have contradictory accounts of the same event.

Based On The Big Screen

It's named after Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashomon, in which a samurai has been mysteriously killed. Four characters give conflicting reports of what happened: the samurai's wife says she was raped by a bandit, fainted, then awoke to find the samurai dead; the bandit says he seduced the wife and then fought the samurai to an honorable death; the woodcutter says he witnessed the rape and murder but stayed out of it; and the dead samurai's ghost says that he killed himself. The true question of Rashomon isn't whose account is correct, however. Instead, it forces audiences to ask if there even is a correct version of events.

Memory Is Faulty

Of course, a real-world crime would certainly have a single true explanation. In reality, conflicting accounts come down to the unreliability of human memory. In fact, research has shown that implanting false memories can be as simple as asking someone to recount an event that didn't happen. What's more, every time you remember something, you rewrite it in your brain. If that recollection contains errors, you'll strengthen those errors until you're positive they're correct. That's why even a memory as extreme as fighting a samurai could be constructed out of thin air with the right kind of suggestion.

But about that last question: is there even a correct version of events? While the answer is usually yes, it's sometimes no—especially in quantum mechanics. In that scientific realm, tiny particles live in superposition, where they're in every possible state at once. They only take on a single state once they're observed. So is that state the "correct" one, or are all of the states technically correct? It's enough to make you really appreciate your macroscopic existence.

Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" is available on Bluray on Click here if you're interested. We handpick product recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer September 9, 2016

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