Atheist Scruples: do your (jury) duty

Today’s question:

You are interviewed for jury duty. It will be a long and tedious trial. Do you pretend to have opinions which will disqualify you?

I’d say I don’t have to pretend. I wouldn’t say this to avoid jury duty, though. It’s part of the system to assess a level of guilt but it’s a flawed system and doesn’t always work to actually put the right person behind bars.

I would be honest and I would say that I know eye witness testimony is too unreliable to use as proof of someone’s guilt. There have been so many studies done illustrating just how crappy we are at remembering things that happened.

Our eyes only see what’s directly in front of us. The rest of the details are peripheral and I think the brain pretty much makes the world up as our eyes flick around. Isn’t there thought that peripheral vision evolved to keep us on our toes so we’re aware of what’s around us even if we don’t have a clear view of exactly what it is? Is it dangerous, or merely a tree branch waving during a sudden gust of wind?

I know a car just drove by and I noticed the brake lights were on. It looked kind of black and maybe was an SUV but there’d be no way in hell I’d want to go up on a witness stand three years from now and declare that yes, indeed, that was the killer’s car. “I remember it so clearly, like it was yesterday…”

Like hell.

We don’t even recall our memories, matter of fact. All we really do is tell ourselves a story about the story we think we told ourselves the last time. Our brains are very good at inventing detail and over time will add more to the story than was actually there to begin with. That black SUV I mentioned earlier? It totally was full of teenagers and their music was super loud and I know that because I remember there was some thunder.. and I’m just bullshitting the audience and myself at the same time. Nothing but the truth, your Honour.

I’ll have to hunt for a link to this and update later because I can’t find anything at the moment. Memory is shit but I don’t think I made this up:

I recall reading about a teacher who, the day (day after?) the towers fell in New York, had his students write essays about where they were, who they were with and what they were doing the moment that happened. The teacher took the essays and filed them away for a while. A few years later, he asked the same kids to write down where they were, who they were with and what they were doing at the time, and then compared the new essays with the old ones. Many kids thought the old ones were made up. They’d already convinced themselves of a different inner memory of those moments.

Apparently it’s also possible to doctor an image and have people recall being in a hot air balloon even though they’ve never been off the ground. I can’t find the link to that one either, unfortunately.

There’s this though. Look into something called change blindness. If patrons don’t even notice the person who was serving them at a counter just switched shirts or gender or skin colour, I can’t honestly put much faith in someone else’s faith in their observational skills, or their memories.

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