Cryptomnesia 201. Plagiarism 101


Cryptomnesia is a disorder (see my previous post Cryptomnesia 101.)  It is characterized by forgetting about the real source of information, difficulty discerning whether the event is a reality or a figment of the imagination. Among the main symptoms of this disorder are the following:

  • difficulty in differentiating between dream and reality, hallucinations;
  • confusing own thoughts and beliefs with those the once read or heard;
  • confusing events of own life with lives of other people, either real or fictional (books,movies).

    Roswita Szyszka. Confusion.

    British scientists M. Howe and M. Debish investigated the causes of false memories and concluded that the occurrence of sensations similar to déjà vu, the most frequently found in people with the following features:

    • high IQ;
    • emotionality, sensitivity,
    • competence in a particular area of expertise;
    • communicative, friendly  personality;
    • good memory;
    • creative thinking.mod1

    Cryptomnesia can give rise to unintended plagiarism, especially when logical memories are no longer recognized as memories, but are experienced as newly created ideas. In the field of literature, the characteristics of this kind of plagiarism are, according to Jung, repetition of the general trend of a story, including some unimportant details, but in phrases which differ from the original ones.

    Unintended verbatim plagiarism is a rare occurrence. It could be caused by cryptomnesia in persons with an excellent verbal rote memory. Two possible instances are described in detail. Cryptomnesia may have been responsible in one case, but careless filing of a copied poem is the more likely explanation in the other. (Cryptomnesia and Plagiarism, F. KRÄUPL TAYLOR, 

    Cryptomnesia may  explain how the apparent plagiarism of such people as Helen Keller or George Harrison of the Beatles might actually be cases of hidden memory.

    In the 1970s, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was at the center of a heavily publicized copyright infringement suit, due to its similarity to the Ronnie Mack song “He’s So Fine“, a 1963 hit for the New York girl group the Chiffons. In 1976, Harrison was found to have subconsciously plagiarized the earlier tune.

    Helen Keller’s  The Frost King is a dead ringer of Margaret Canby’s  The Frost Fairies.

    Both may simply be cases of not having a conscious memory of their experiences of the works in question, thus cryptomnesia.

    howIn 2006, Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard University student, seemed to have scored about as big as a college sophomore possibly could. Not only was her novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life, being published by Little, Brown, but she had also secured a movie deal for an adaptation of the book. But the Harvard Crimson reported after its release that several passages bore suspicious similarities to parts of the young adult novels “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings” by Megan McCafferty.

    Viswanathan released a statement citing her “photographic memory” as the problem, saying that “any phrasing similarities between (McCafferty’s) works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious.”  Yet another case of cryptomnesia?

    nitАllegedly, Friedrich Nietzschе was a cryptomnesiac.  As a result of traumatic brain injury, philosopher periodically suffered from depression and even psychotic episodes.   The Thinker often confused reality with fantasy and often appropriated other peoples words and ideas.  Many of his philosophical concepts were later interpreted as plagiarism. Go and figure.



    The Dumas’ Musketeers got their start when Dumas read the first volume of the Memoirs of Monsieur D’Artagnan written by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras.  It is also said that he had never read past the first volume. Dumas almost duplicated the beginning/opening of the work. He also borrowed a few details from the Memoires M. le Comte de Rochefort, notably the branding of M’Lady. Alexander Dumas, was repeatedly accuses of plagiarism. He didn’t contesty this claim, what he did not argue, looking at the problem philosophically: “Everything in this world is a rip-off. Even the Lord God created Adam in His own image and likeness.

    When Shakespeare was accused of stealing someone else’s text, he reportedly said: “The text was as a girl, which I found in the mud and introduced into high society.”

    Neither Shakespeare nor Dumas were cryptomaniacs…

    I’m thinking of writing a novel. It’ll be a historical fiction focusing on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg, Russia, Raskolnikov — that’ll be his name — is tormented by his own nihilism, and the struggle between good and evil. Believing that he is above the law, and convinced that humanitarian ends justify vile means, he brutally murders an old woman — a pawnbroker whom he regards as “stupid, ailing, greedy…good for nothing.” Overwhelmed afterwards by feelings of guilt and terror, Raskolnikov confesses to the crime and goes to prison. There he realizes that happiness and redemption can only be achieved through suffering. Something to this effect.

Here I go:

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge…

Igor Ivanov. Raskolnikov

What? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT? By Fyodor Dostoevsky? Translated by Constance Garnett?  Plagiarism? Oh, no! I must be a cryptomaniac.

Let me try again. Something entirely different. How’s this for the first line: It was a dark and stormy night…? Ah, well…