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Neuropsychological humility

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of PainScience.com: a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Memories influence not just how we interpret what we see, but literally what we actually see. Dr. Steven Novella, summarizing some recent science on this topic:

Memory is explicitly involved in this construction process [generating what we perceive]. It’s a fundamental aspect of neuropsychological humility: just understanding how your brain works is critical to being skeptical. After listening to this show you should no longer say things like ‘I know what I saw’ or ‘I clearly remember.’

Dr. Novella coined the term “neuropsychological humility” back in 2013:

Neuropsychological humility [is] the understanding that our perceptions and memories are deeply flawed and biased. There appears to be almost no limit to the extent to which people can deceive themselves into believing bizarre things.

Neuropsychological humility is relevant to my work here on PainScience.com in many ways. It’s why the words “in my experience” are the “three most dangerous words in medicine” (Crislip), why there’s such chronic tension between clinical experience and evidence-based medicine, why anecdotes can’t be trusted, why patients think they were helped even by “treatments” that are actually harmful, why massage therapists think they can feel things that aren’t there, why we perceive the things that we want to believe, why “obvious” explanations for pain are usually wrong, even why pain is such a weird and unreliable sensation.

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