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Diane Vera

Everything the religious right wing is against, I am for!

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Recovered memories -- true vs. false?
In a comment thread on Talk To Action, I got into an interesting discussion about "recovered memories" -- the very idea of which has been the focus of lots of controversy among psychologists and psychotherapists. Is it possible for people to repress, more-or-less completely, their memory of a traumatic event, and then to recover it later? The 1980-1995 "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) scare was fed, to a large degree, by "recovered memories" -- in many cases "recovered" via the "hypnotic regression" that was faddish back in the 1970's and 1980's.

Most of the writings I've read on the topic of traumatic "recovered memories" have had an all-or-nothing attitude: Either they were inclined to trust all (or at least most) "recovered memories" of trauma, or they were inclined to distrust all of them. Until just the past few days, I don't recall ever reading any intermediate stances except by a few of the people who endorse truly wacky SRA claims. And I never encountered anyone who provided any useful, down-to-earth advice on how to distinguish between probably-true and probably-false recovered memories of trauma. Admittedly I haven't been staying up-to-date on the relevant academic literature, so it's quite possible I missed something important.

In my Talk To Action post "Exorcism and religious intolerance," Tue Feb 01, 2011, I refereed briefly to the SRA scare and "recovered memories." Someone with the name OldChaosoftheSun replied with a comment arguing that recovered memories are indeed a real phenomenon -- and so too did ArchaeoBob, whom I am inclined to respect, here and here.

In my reply to ArchaeoBob, I said I would be "interested to learn more about the circumstances under which a recovered memory is likely to be true." ArchaeoBob replied with what seems to me -- at first glance, at least -- to be a very credible, down-to-earth list of differences between probably-true and probably-false recovered memories. Of course, I'm no expert on memory and not really in a good position to evaluate the validity of his list, but at least it's not prima facie wacky in my opinion.

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Good day Diane, I am new to your forum, and was directed to read your comments, observations and insight for your unique, perhaps 'non-conformist' perspectives on the occult and Satan.

I look forward to this with great zeal!

Re: recovered memories- I remember years back, the McMartin preschool "for devils" investigation, interrogation, manipulation and subsequent conclusion.

There was also a recent news bit on a wrongfully convicted individual, also in CA, who was released ~20+ years after imprisonment. He also was the suject of a 'witch hunt', where young kids were dealing with repressed memories, etc.

I read about the SRA misjustices as well- Salem x1000. Do the xtians wrap themselves in such fear that anything can and will be turned against an individual or group outside their set, established, acceptable boundaries?

Some/many use these created events to further their own agenda or vendetta- what could it hurt? Ive just started reading "In the Devil's Snare" by Mary Beth Norton- who explores the Salem Witch trials (farce). She is boldly going where no one had gone before!

These aside, I think we all underestimate the power of our mind, and imagination. How do we discern where reality stops and fantasy begins?

Your friend ArchaeoBob said:
"There is a danger in demanding corroboration.  In some cases, repressed memories can be corroborated if one is lucky.  In others, they can not, but that does not mean that they're implanted or fake.  (And yes, I know that does happen, but sometimes people seem to go too far the other way IMO.)...
I might add that I find it extremely tiresome to have people demand I prove everything".

I don't see any "danger" in demanding corroboration. There are very serious dangers inherent to NOT demanding corroboration - as you are very much aware, Diane.

For me, debate over whether real, accurate "repressed memories" are possible or impossible, was never the point. It doesn't matter if an accusation of abuse arises from a "recovered memory", or from an "always held" memory - what matters is whether the accusation can be corroborated or not. If it can't be corroborated, perhaps better not to voice it until it can be. That may sound harsh or unfair, but there are very valid reasons why our culture has developed the idea that benefit of doubt belongs to the accused - and however much we might feel sympathetic and compassionate toward victimized persons, and even if we absolutely believe the accuser, we still have a responsibility not to abandon that principle.

I agree with gaianguy on the importance of the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" -- at least with regard to actual criminal accusations. I agree that corroboration is needed for that purpose. Nevertheless, it seems to me that some kinds of "recovered memories" are inherently more likely to be true than others.

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