Cryptomnesia occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a tune, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.
I saw this topic the other day in one of my news feeds, and I thought it would be interesting to think about during a chapter on media ethics.
Cryptomnesia is thought to be caused by the inability to properly monitor sources. A reporter may be concentrating so much on a particular article, s/he fails to notice another reporter has published their own article on the same subject. The first reporter may begin to believe the published article is their own work, because the timing is so close to their work.
Helen Keller was guilty of cryptomnesia. She wrote a piece of fiction called The Frost King, a piece she thought she had fully imagined our of her own mind. Unfortunately, she forgot she had been read a similar story many years previously. Many people thought she intentionally plagiarized, even though she denied it. Her memory clouded the source of The Frost King, thus allowing her to unknowingly rewrite a fairy tale.
Even the late George Harrison was susceptible to cryptomnesia. Two courts found him guilty of borrowing large portions of “He’s So Fine” when he wrote “My Sweet Lord.” Although he did so subconsciously, he still had to pay the copyright plagiarism fine.
What does all of this mean?
Don’t live in a bubble. The world is turning all around you. Nothing is original any more. All you can do is twist it until it no longer sounds like it belonged to someone else.