Social amnesia

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” Douglas Adams

As a species we’re for ever blowing bubbles, especially of the financial kind.

History is littered with the burst bubbles of inflated hopes. Tulip mania, the South Seas Bubble and a series of gold rushes real or metaphorical including Ponti schemes, as practised by the disgraced financier Madoff.

The dot-com bubble at the start of this century was quickly followed by an apparently sublime bricks and mortar property market based, as we now know, on sub-prime loans not worth the paper they were written on.

In the Era of Alzheimer’s, when more people are living long enough to develop dementia, there is a parallel premature loss of social memory when it comes to the next big get rich thing.

Henry Gustav Molaison, who died recently, lost his new memories every 20 seconds because of a 1953 operation to stop his seizures in the wake of a cycling accident. After the surgery, he manifested “profound amnesia,” which rendered him incapable of holding onto an experience. Social amnesia seems to work in the same way, particularly where financial greed is concerned.

In the big exam room of the universe, those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Thanks to Adams we know the answer to the Big Question of the Universe is 42. What was the question again?


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