December 2011

How easy is it to falsify memory? As individuals, each and every one of us creates a narrative of our life,  but is it necessarily true?

Recent research by the Weizmann Institute “shows that a bit of social pressure may be all that is needed.”  The study,  being published  in Science, shows a false memory formulates  a unique pattern of brain activity when the false memories are formed. They argue that this research shows the correlation between our social  self and our memory, and the  co-active correlation between the amygdala and the hippocamus in the process.

The article is very interesting for its neurobiology, and the approach they took to looking at memory.  But it’s not news that we as human beings can be  highly responsive to those around us, and it’s this social conscious that formulates much of who we are as social people. It would be interesting to see this work duplicated in a different setting, such as the typical schoolroom,  so that we can formulate what it is that helps students remember correctly, and why they remember something incorrectly,  and if there is a cognitive technique that would help the struggling student.  The brain is a machine and  repetition is the default setting so in that respect it’s understandable why people repeat their mistakes including false memory.  But, I also think that as social humans,  we are individuals with a lot of personal context and over time  attach more meaning to the memory that we do keep, and eventually discard altogether false memory or any memory we consider unimportant, in the  same way that we discard  so much of the daily bombardment from the world around us.


In class I referred to the idea of false memory- which is included in the memory used for dream-making. What this means is that our dreams are created from a fountain of images and emotions, and sometimes the dream process links them together, either accidentally or intentionally, and sometimes in a way that shocks us even while we’re in deep sleep- so much that it literally makes us sit up and ask why. Why did I dream that? What does it mean?  And as Hobson writes, we then try to attach meaning to something that may only be an accidental link and without meaning.  At which point a student reminded me of the psychologists who do regression work, and sometimes the recalled memories (from dreams or the therapy sessions) are used as testimony in trials.  Is this reasonable, considering what’s at stake in a court?

Another valid point is how easy it is to plant “a seed” or a false memory into a person’s fountain of images, memory and emotions.  Now that I’ve seen this research at the   Weizmann Institute I wonder how many of the repressed memories that have been recovered by psychologists, replicate in full honesty the original event. Wouldn’t that be impossible? I’m curious now about  devices used by the police department, such as lie detectors,( which are not always accurate either) and whether or  not they can root out the false memory or does it only find that the person truly believes the memory is true even if it might indeed be false; which basically would back up the Weizmann research?


Reading Mark Vonnegut’s new book has me thinking about the thin line between sanity and insanity,  how fuzzy it is and how the application of Gestalt theory helps to find that line, define it, and in doing so establish the means to survive in the “real reality.”

We live in a world with a preordained set of acceptable rules about social behavior that an individual may not be able to meet squarely, but must, or suffer alienation. If a person has a lot of money and has visions, he’s considered eccentric perhaps, but not insane;  if the person is poor off to the nuthouse for him with a stream of prescriptions such that he may never recover!  There is, however, another element of the equation to consider in addition to the security or money, and that is dialogue.

The Senoi believe a dreamer encounters many and various spirits in the lucid  dream world; that “nature is impregnated by spiritual forces, many of them personified in the form of evil spirits.” (Dumhoff)  Western society, however,  has unlearned  and unremembered  the fact that spirits exist, and some are indeed evil; dare I say it’s a state of intellectual amnesia, and contrived at that.  The effort to analyze hallucinations and the disorder, schizophrenia, by magnetic imagery or placing a selected sample of “infected” brain tissue into a Petri dish is faulty research. Indeed. Does a Petri Dish have a lucid dream? Can Evil Spirits invade a Petri dish or show up on an MRI? I don’t think so. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If  evil confronts brain tissue preserved in a Petri dish,  can the microscope perceive the evil? Can evil even pervade a brain cell that’s  disconnected from a conscious, thinking thing? Can MRI or fMRI  imaging determine where the impulse came from that started the hallucination, and determine whether it’s real or illusion? No, yet research continues.

Carl Jung developed new theories as a result of his visions and the voices. Einstein redesigned the concept of time relativity from his visions.   Black Elk saw his future and worked to unite his people.  The difference between these men of genius and Jared Loughner is they opened dialogue with the visions, and learned from the experience. Science has advanced rapidly and far in many areas, but not to the point that a scientist can find evil on a  fMRI and open dialogue. The Senoi believe that the evil spirits in the dream world are disturbing images that the dreamer can change. Van Gogh painted. Stevenson wrote.  Jung applied critical thinking and developed analytical psychology. But Jared Loughner, however, and despite all the warning signs,went out, bought a gun and went on a shooting spree. Can a  fMRI answer the important question- why? Why shoot people? What is it about damage to the amygdala, for example, that a makes a person violent? Shouldn’t we be more than that?

Opening a dialectic dialogue with the visions and/or voices may well be the difference between sanity and insanity, or at least bridge a path to balanced mental health in the process.  But I wonder how many (nonviolent) geniuses did talk to their visions and were locked away as “crazy” people? I wonder how many crazy people who were locked away would have been famous artists, writers, philosophers, inventors or scientists, etc. if they had a support system. Does being willing to talk to visions, the good and the evil, make you eccentric, or is it an act of lucid genius?  Is it the willingness to face the charge of eccentricity that makes a genius a Genius?   Dialogue is no assurance of mental health, in fact it may well make matters far worse, but it is the first step to stability.  Balance comes with control; control comes with clarity. Lucidity and the ability to discern real from delusion, right from wrong, good from evil, and as the Senoi practice, are necessary to control the outcome. The outcome varies, because every person, as an individual, finds answers within their own individuation.  The list is long:  Joan of Arc fought for France and became a national hero.  Edgar Allen Poe struggled, but wrote. Franz Kafka gave warnings. Van Gogh painted starry skies but it wasn’t enough; he shot himself.  Jung took control, kept a journal, wrote and illustrated the now published Red Book.  Mark Vonnegut wrote, not one book, but two and turned out to be a fine medical doctor. Why did he make it; why is he different from so many who do not make it?

For answers, scientists need to research outside the box and look at the person and the disease from the whole perspective.  As for taking control for one’s life, in the manner of a Senoi changing the disturbing images that plague them, would not that change be found in teaching the patient how to remap the brain, to close the doors through which the undesirable images and voices find their entry?  I tend to be a student of the psychologists who think we are intelligent human beings and do have the ability to direct our brain, and in doing so direct our life.  The first step for the researchers  would require admitting that thoughts exist outside the physical brain, but I’m not sure if they’re ready for that step.