Concussions and Santa Claus Amnesia

This crazy weekend reminded me of my frequent visits to the ER as a kid. I had 4 concussions by the time I was 12. Two of them happened on vacation. My concussions are part of our entire family lore. Yinh claims, based on her independent interviews with my family, that it was actually 5. I maintain it was only 3. Mom says 4 which is the number that has stuck. We’ll never know. This was in the day that you’d bump your head and everyone would try to keep you awake for the next day as if you were now a Seal trainee during Hell Week.

Family oral histories are dotted with apocryphal stories. Playing telephone as a kid could have told you that. The dubious nature of old stories is actually a narrower instance of a rule that says most of what you know is actually bullshit. Your parents told you things their parents told them. And parents are constantly lying to their kids. But this really becomes obvious when you become a parent and realize how many untruths you say just to get through the day. I had my fair share this weekend as I told Max we were going to “get some medicine” as I pack an overnight bag to head to the hospital. It didn’t hurt that Zak, 6, was in the audience.

It’s almost impossible to not want to re-examine every fact that has calcified in your mind since youth once you accept this. And you can’t not accept it without suffering some version of what I will call “Santa Claus amnesia”. The analogy is clear if you follow Michael Crichton’s explanation of Gell-Mann amnesia:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

Somehow we suspend our disbelief that our longest-running pieces of knowledge aren’t from our most dubious sources: our parents. Don’t begrudge them. It’s not their fault. It was truly out of love.

Zak and Max if you read this one day, know that that you shouldn’t die on any hills for anything I’ve ever said to you. Other than the fact that your parents love you.

And to my own parents. I don’t believe a lot of what I was told. But I love you. Thanks for taking me to the ER a lot. I know what that was like now.

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