Recently I read the quote, “We are now in the age of brain and memory research.” It’s about time I said to myself. What we knew about these topics until a few years ago was mere speculation and could have fit into a shoebox.
Have you ever wondered whether your memories of the past are accurate? I have. And as a psychotherapist in a private practice working with many clients who had been diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I often questioned and so did they. I had no real answers for them at the time.
And so after my retirement, when I unexpectedly changed my course in life and began to write mysteries, I decided to explore this question and add my own feverish imagination to the plot. Justice Forbidden is a murder mystery/thriller of a psychologist who is being sued for creating memories in a client about previous abuse that she now says never occurred. Were Kera’s memories real? Is she lying to get money? Or did Dr. Faythe Bradington implant those memories as Kera now claims? And is that even possible? What does the present research of the brain and how it constructs memories now say?
Did you know that in Freud’s day it was thought that the brain worked like a camera? It took an accurate movie of an event and stored it unchanged forever. That meant there was only one true story and all your memories were accurate. Later psychologists realized that each person had his or her own perception of what happened but they believed this perception never changed. Psychologists thought that some people could repress difficult memories and then could retrieve them later. More recently some researchers in psychology conjectured that memory was not completely accurate and that there was no evidence that memories could be repressed and then later remembered. As a matter of fact, they thought that all repressed memories that were later remembered had been merely made up by someone with an overactive imagination or had been programmed into the brain by an authority figure like a psychotherapist. Thus the False Memory Syndrome was born. You have probably heard of it. The topic used to be all the rage and several fiction books included false memories.
In the meantime the question of memory was still not answered and most of us had no idea what memory was really all about. Now that we have Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, researchers can actually see what is happening in the brain as it works and forms thoughts, emotions, and memories. So what is true? Of course the whole truth is still unknown and may take years of research to pin down. But we gradually know more and more.
Yes, first of all, complete false memories can be created by the brain without the person knowing. What is even more interesting is that each time you remember an incident the brain reconstitutes it in a somewhat different way. A new memory is born. The old memory is gone and can never be retrieved exactly as it originally occurred.
So what does that mean for what we call truth and nothing but the truth? Is anyone remembering the “truth” of an event as it really happened? Probably not. That may at least partly account for the fact that you and your sister or brother don’t remember the same incident in the same way. Or maybe you remember something she says never happened. Who is right? Possibly neither of you. And what does that mean for the accuracy of eye witnesses? And what about autobiographies and true stories? We may have to call everything we remember just that. “My memories of what I think happened. They are probably based on an actual event.”
Researchers now know how we can repress and forget difficult memories, but they are still not sure repressed memories can be recovered. One researcher states he believes he has found the path the brain takes to retrieve them.
Recently the military designated millions of dollars to test drugs that will actually erase PTSD memories. However, actual use of them is still years away. Will the drug eliminate only the memories a person wants eliminated or will they clear out all memories? Or are the memories repressed deeper in the brain? Only time will tell. Because of the horrendous effects and memories of war and abuse, the researchers already have lines of volunteers waiting to become subjects when human trials begin.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in this puzzling but critical issue. Oh, and in the meantime read my book Justice Forbidden for an exciting and stimulating, can’t put down read. It is on www.Amazon.com as an e-book for only $2.99. I am writing the sequel at present.