Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fly Brains and Memory of Abuse, Part One

Yuck, Fly Brains!

The New York Times, Science Tuesday reported yesterday that: Researchers had implanted memories of trauma in the Brains of Fruit Flies, see Ouch!

The nineteen-nineties featured a forensic debate about something labeled the “false memory syndrome”of FMS a pseudo-scientific invention of Peter J. Freyd, whose daughter had accused him of raping her when she was a child. Self-appointed memory experts like Elizabeth Loftus and Richard Ofshe ran around the country making a lot of money as “experts” advancing the non-scientific notion of memory implantation in the defense of lawsuits by brought by victims of child sex abuse. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary at: Note, the adherents of the invented FMS are still at it--for a long time I received a newsletter from Freyd’s FMS foundation that operated a rapid response operation not letting any television or news report go unchallenged from their perspective, just check the “discussion” page at Wikipedia.

What’s involved?

Well, it doesn’t take a scholar of human behavior to see that adults frequently sexually exploit children. Can you say ROMAN POLANSKI? And surprise, surprise; normally credible people will leap to the defense of the adult! As this plays out in the family context can utterly blow your mind. The raped child is the perpetrator, the raped child is making it up—in more than one deposition I’ve taken over the years I’ve had family members who knew it was happening to a sister/daughter/grandchild/niece/cousin—tell me that the child “wanted it.”

Thank God for Roman Polanski because he illustrates an important point: crimes against children are not limited by social class, education, ethnicity, race, economics, or culture. Children have always been sexualized by adults, the evidence of which runs 24 hours a day on your television, the movies and advertising for clothes, cosmetics, and many categories of consumer goods.

So what is the context of the debate? Equally absurd is the forensic advancement of “repressed memory” –of which I have been labeled a primary proponent in the local and national press. While I believe repressed memory is a real psychological phenomena its use in court is ridiculous and to my mind fairly discredited. Repressed memory is the unconscious forgetting of past trauma. For instance, a victim of rape or violence does not remember the rape or the violence. Huh? How? Precisely, how does a person completely forget that they were raped or a victim of some traumatic violence? And why is this significant?

Well I don’t think the idea of that a victim of violence psychologically wants to forget the violence is all that difficult a concept to wrap your mind around, but how does this happen unconsciously?

Scientists who study this theorize that the brain can organically rewire perceptions of violent injury so that the victim can continue to function despite such horrors. There is considerable statistical evidence for the existence of this phenomena and I will discuss it again in this BLAWG at length—but for the time being let me illustrate the point. I personally had an accident where I fell from a cliff at a State Park. I fell, rolled, and tumbled some 200 feet down a steep ravine. While I knew this had happened, I could not explain the mechanism of the fall—for four years after the accident my memory of the moments immediately before the fall that would explain to me why the fall occurred were totally inaccessible to me. I’ve seen the same thing repeatedly over the years in litigation involving serious injury, the victim of the car, motorcycle; industrial accident is routinely unable to relate the details of what happened. How many times have you heard someone give an account of a violent accident saying I was driving along then the next thing I was waking up in a hospital bed—repressed memory.

Ok, I don’t want to go too long—let’s keep this entry at a readable length—repressed memory is important, forensically, because courts have held that civil and criminal prosecutions can proceed years after the period when a statute of limitations has expired if the victim did not discover the fact of their injury until they recovered their memory. You see? Repressed memory is also called “recovered memory” and the bane of Peter Freyd and the False Memory Syndrome proponents. They argue that repressed or as they call them recovered memories are "implanted" memories like the biologists are doing to the fruit flies. More on this topic


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  2. I apologize for the appearance of today's post, I was tinkering with the Word blog product and it made everything go kablooey. I'll keep experimenting with upgrading this dump!