One of many cringe-making moments in Christine Blasey Ford’s protracted complaint before the Senate Judiciary Committee – and the country – was an affectation-dripping reference to her hippocampus.
“Indelible in the hippocampus” was the memory of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her, some 36 years back, asserted Ford in that scratchy, valley-girl voice of hers.
With that, the good “doctor” was making a false appeal to scientific authority. Ford had just planted a falsity in the nation’s collective consciousness. The accuser was demanding that the country believe her and her hippocampus.
All nonsense on stilts.
We want to believe that our minds record the events of our lives meticulously, and that buried in the permafrost of our brain, perfectly preserved, is the key to our woes.
Unfortunately, scientific research negates the notion that forgotten memories exist somewhere in the brain and can be accessed in pristine form.
Granted, we don’t know whether She Who Must Never Be Questioned recovered the Judge-Kavanaugh memory in therapy. That’s because, well, she must never be questioned.
Questioning the left’s latest sacred cow is forbidden. Bovine Republicans blindly obey.
I happened to have covered and thoroughly researched the “recovered memory ruse,” in 1999. Contrary to the trend, one of my own heroes is not Christine Blah-Blah Ford, but a leading world authority on memory, Elizabeth Loftus.
Professor Loftus, who straddles two professorships – one in law, the other in psychology – had come to Vancouver, British Columbia, to testify on behalf of a dedicated educator, a good man, who had endured three trials, the loss of a career and financial ruin because of the Crown’s attempts to convict him of sexual assault based on memories recovered in therapy.
I attended. I was awed.
Over decades of research, Loftus has planted many a false memory in the minds of her research subjects, sometimes with the aid of nothing more than a conversation peppered with some suggestions.
“A tone of voice, a phrasing of a question, subtle non-verbal signals, and expressions of boredom, impatience or fascination” – these are often all it takes to plant suggestions in the malleable human mind.
Loftus does not question the prevalence of the sexual abuse of children or the existence of traumatic memories. What she questions are memories commonly referred to as repressed: “Memories that did not exist until someone went looking for them.”
Suffice it to say, that the memory recovery process is a therapeutic confidence trick that has wreaked havoc in thousands of lives.
Moreover, repression, the sagging concept that props up the recovered memory theory, is without any cogent scientific support. The 30-odd studies the recovery movement uses as proof for repression do not make the grade. These studies are retrospective memory studies that rely on self-reports with no independent, factual corroboration of information.
Sound familiar? Dr. Ford (and her hippocampus), anyone?
Even in the absence of outside influence, memory deteriorates rapidly. “As time goes by,” writes Loftus in her seminal book, “The Myth of Repressed Memories,” “the weakened memories are increasingly vulnerable to post-event information.”
What we see on TV, read and hear about events is incorporated into memory to create an unreliable amalgam of fact and fiction.
After an extensive investigation, the British Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a ban prohibiting its members from using any method to recover memories of child abuse. Memory retrieval techniques, say the British guidelines, are dangerous methods of persuasion.
“Recovered memories,” inveighed Alan Gold, then president of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers Association, “are joining electroshock, lobotomies and other psychiatric malpractice in the historical dustbin.”
Not that you’d know it from the current climate of sexual hysteria, but the courts in the U.S. had responded as well by ruling to suppress the admission of all evidence remembered under therapy.
Altogether it seems as clear in 2018 as it was in 1999: Memories that have been excavated during therapy have no place in a court of law. Or, for that matter, in a Senate committee that shapes the very same justice system.