This article is from Lynne Kelly’s new book The Memory Code. I recommend reading the piece for a number of reasons. And then I think you will also want to buy the book.
The cover of the book contains the red flag word “groundbreaking”. Too many books with fantastical new ideas by nonexperts are labeled as such. But this one is different…
In the article, we see that Lynne (a rather well-known skeptic personality from Australia, one of my Facebook friends, and a generally lovely person) was pursuing a PhD in English, studying Australian Aboriginal historical knowledge, when she formed an idea about Stonehenge as a memory place. Instead of declaring this idea to the world, she rightly chose to subject it to further analysis by searching the literature, consulting experts in the appropriate field (archaeology), and testing the hypothesis. After all that, the hypothesis stood.
I read this excerpt as an example of how to do science, and even general investigation, the correct way. I’ve seen so many pretend scientists make declarations of outrageous fringe claims without anything other then a pathological devotion to their idea, no evidential support or peer review. We are justified to reject outrageous claims that have not been vetted since it’s nearly a sure bet they aren’t true. But Lynne’s amazing claim was checked and will continue to be discussed. She has contributed a new perspective by applying her own developed frame of knowledge to new areas. As we build up our own personal framework and pay attention to things around us, the world can look different, the new perspective can release a flood of understanding.
Archaeologists and memory researchers can now assess this tentative claim about Stonehenge and other ancient sites themselves as to how it works and if it is actually groundbreaking. If it is, they can use this new framing to better understand other sites. If not, their knowledge and skills will still have been expanded as they considered the idea. Yet, whether the theory is ultimately supported or not, I am so in awe of Lynne for having the flexible mind to think of it and to work through the hurdles and pitfalls to get this idea and book published in a scientific way. That is outstanding.
Memory is essential to how humans operate in the world. I’ll be picking up The Memory Code and using Lynne’s observations and ideas about remembering (like the ones noted in the linked piece) to inform and improve my own life. This is a goal for every science writer, to inform and change people’s lives, to make an impact.
Thanks to Richard Saunders of the Skeptic Zone for passing along this article.
Check out this interview with Lynne about overcoming her fear of spiders.