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FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018 Jessica van Horssen

Manipulated memory: The dangers of unethical therapy

Written by Jessica Van Horssen

Therapy. Who hasn’t been to a therapist nowadays? It seems like therapy is the new church. We are looking for answers to our painful feelings, our limiting beliefs, and our insecurities to the point that we go desperately looking for answers. Sometimes in the wrong places.

When there is such a high demand, it is only natural that more therapists and therapies pop up. Apart from conventional psychotherapy, there are many alternatives such as hypnotherapy, regression therapy, ayahuasca therapy, and so on.

Many of those therapies claim that in order to become a person free of trauma and pain, one has to live through those same experiences again with the help of a therapist. After having experienced them consciously again, you are supposedly finally ready to let them go and become healed and whole. While I’m not against any of those therapies per se, I would like to point out the dangers of so-called memory retrieval.

This might work for some, but I have also seen many people get stuck in a neverending story of healing their traumas. People who have spent over a decade working through their traumas. And while they are so fixated on healing, they are actually stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy because now they only live for their traumas. So, under the motto of healing childhood traumas, many people become entangled with a therapist, continuously reliving their traumas and growing dependent on their healing.

Maybe they experience a heartfelt connection with that therapist, but a breakthrough never happens.

How do you know if most of the memories you keep working on aren’t false? After all, the more you repeat or talk about something, the less your memory of the experience resembles the original event. Especially if you’ve been talking about it for years!

False Memories

Studies have shown that it is quite simple to plant a false memory in someone’s head. Psychologist Julia Shaw conducted an experiment in which she asked the parents of her participants about an event from the participant’s childhood, then told the participants about the event, but made something up about it too. With suggestive remarks, she was able to make the participants believe that those things had actually happened.

We can conclude that it is quite easy to create false memories. It’s unsettling to think that therapists can have such a profound power.

In the game telephone, one person must come up with a sentence and whisper it in the next person’s ear. Coming full circle, the sentence never turns out the same way that the first person said it. The same thing happens when repeatedly analyzing and talking about a certain memory. The more attention you give it, the more it grows. The same principle that can allow therapists to implant false memories is also relevant for friends, family, and the police. Mistaking imagination for memory can happen quickly and unknowingly.

Studies have shown that the more a person talks about a memory, the more it grows out of proportion. In the 1980s and 90s, therapists asked patients to picture what it would be like to be abused. Repeated over many weeks, these thoughts had grown into memories that tore apart whole families!

A Silver Lining

There is one positive side to the implementation of false memories. Therapists have started to use similar techniques to help those suffering from PTSD. They essentially rescript their memories into something more manageable, relieving them from the pain of their traumas in the process.

This is obviously great! Still, let’s be very careful when manipulating memories. In the end, you might become a whole different person and your view of the world will never be the same.

Contributing Writers FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018

Everything Must Be Forgotten

Art and Text by Marten Bart Stork:

Everything Must Be Forgotten

I remember you.

How do you remember me?

Do we remember accurately?

 

I don’t remember being born.

Or where I was before.

 

Because everything must be forgotten.

So we can do it all again.

 

Eternal repetition.

The show must go on.

 

And we will play every scene.

In every possible way.

And we will play all the different roles.

Forever and always.

 

But we must keep on forgetting.

So we can do it all again.

 

We must keep on forgetting.

Or else we go insane.

  *You can see more of Marten’s work on Instagram.
FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018 Max Muller

Remembering Your Identity

Written by Max Muller:

Some imagine our memory merely as a tool to retrieve past events or thoughts. That it operates as a purely mechanistic, objective tool that passively stores information. As such, it enables us to learn things and allows people to function properly in their daily lives.

However, this conception of human memory is rather limited. Although it does perform the above-mentioned tasks, it is not confined to purely practical matters. A person’s memory is not merely concerned with what he or she does or can do – it also determines who and what the person is.

Human beings are necessarily finite, both in terms of space and in terms of time. We live within a particular time frame and grow up under some set of historical particularities. Thus, to a large extent, our circumstances and experiences determine who we are.

In order to understand ourselves, we look back upon past events. We aim to come to an understanding of our role within them. In doing so, we continuously re-visit our memories to re-interpret them, casting light on the way we are situated in the present.

By selectively choosing to focus on certain memories and at the same time discarding others, people actively and subjectively construct themselves by means of narratives. Human beings are therefore not mere processors of information, they invent and re-work it as stories. Memory comes alive in the act of narration, allowing individuals to form a coherent identity. Human life has, therefore, both biological and biographical origins.

In that sense, it is not surprising that psychologists sometimes encourage their patients to share their life story with them. It allows patients to understand themselves. Their confusion is healed when the re-visitation of their memories results in a more thorough understanding of the way they acted in (perceived) past events. This enables them to act with deeper understanding during the present. Concurrently, their sense of identity is emboldened throughout the process, allowing them to be more at ease with who they are.

Crowdsourcing therapy

Therapists are expensive. In addition, the whole therapeutic process is quite time-consuming, cumbersome and confrontational. Why not engage you, our readers, with my past?

At the risk of seeming exceedingly self-centered, I will take this opportunity to describe some memories of my own. During the writing process, I aim to gain a more thorough understanding of myself. In addition, I am curious as to what you think about my experiences. What do they tell you about me? Do you have any insights as to how I ought to interpret these events? Let us make sense of my life together.

One memory that sometimes resurfaces dates back from more than 17 years ago. At the time, my family and I would visit a place called Cap-d’Agde in the South of France every summer. We would stay in a resort filled with bungalows and spent our carefree days at the beach or near the pools.

Sometimes, however, something out of the ordinary would happen. The owners of the resort would invite a potter to teach kids (and, occasionally, adults too) how to make pots the traditional way. He put a wet blob of clay on a horizontally spinning wheel. With his hands, he would manipulate its shape in a clever way, slowly but steadily creating a pot.

To me, being an eight-year-old, the whole process must have seemed like magic. He barely moved his hands at all, yet sure enough, the spinning clot would always turn into a pot. His precisely applied, manual pressure ensured it.

Another day, the potter maker would take us to his home outside the resort. Upon arriving there, I realized that pottery making represented just a fraction of his artistic inclinations. He had made his whole home himself. Some walls were riddled with minutely illustrated paintings. Others were littered with spontaneously arranged tiles, forming splendid mosaics.

Nothing in the house had sharp hooks or rigid lines. It was a fluid arrangement with bows and curved lines. Looking back on it now, it seemed like an artistic, Mediterranean version of a hobbit home. His house was a Gaudi-esque constellation of furious creativity. The potter had shown a level of dedication that could only be matched by Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. It was a unique anachronism, both temporally as well as spatially.

Its uniqueness was punctuated by the banality of Cap-d’Agde in general. It was a beach town past its former glory, overflowed by foreign tourists who were bored of their mundane lives back home. They were in search of a red-tanned chest and hedonistic escape. The town’s most famous nightclub was aptly called Amnesia. The nudist beaches and swingers clubs were phenomena – famously described by Michel Houellebecq in his book Les Particules Elementaires – that embodied the town’s indulgence.  

Photo by Oscar Nord

Analysis

So what does this memory tell about me? What does the fact that it resurfaces every now and again mean? What insights can it give me with regards to my current phase in life?

One theme of the memory seems to be the contrast between sloth and sacrifice, between laziness and dedication. The potter had gone to great lengths to build a perfect house for himself. Viewed from this point of view, the memory perhaps tells me I have a choice: put in the effort and succeed, or be idle and fail.

By extension, the story reveals the importance of a goal worth fighting for. It is not possible to put in a lot of effort into something that’s not worthwhile. Whatever the potter’s motives were, they were important enough to him to put up a Herculean effort. Maybe it was indeed a romantic act, akin to Gosling’s efforts. Whatever the case may have been, it reminds me of seeking purpose in the things that I do.

The potter’s dedication had an almost ascetic quality. His efforts stood out amid the lazy tourists. Viewed from this perspective, his architectural work represented a kind of purity amid a degenerated desert. Maybe this represents my childhood innocence, which can be contrasted with adulthood.

Another aspect of importance is the dichotomy between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Although I liked spending time at the beach or playing games on my Gameboy Color, the experiences with the potter were something else entirely. They fueled my sense of wonder and stimulated my imagination.

I guess nowadays I look back upon these events with a sense of nostalgia, perhaps even melancholy. I’m not as easily impressed as I was back then. Even so, I currently probably miss having such experiences. Maybe my life has become as mundane as all of those other adults who aimed to escape their lives in the French coastal town.

Your Turn

Anyhow, I am an amateur psychologist at best, and a self-deluding charlatan at worst. You may have a much deeper understanding of this memory in particular. You possibly know how to put my experiences within a Freudian framework, or recall how the potter’s activities relate to Jung’s theory of psychosocial archetypes.

Please tell me! I’m eager to find out more about myself.

However, this isn’t just about me. You have just seen a glimpse of my past. Hopefully, it has inspired you to probe into the depths of your own mind, too. What are your most important memories? What do they signify to you? I invite you to take a step back and analyze your past. I suspect that — in the end — it could prove to be highly rewarding.

FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018 Sybrand Veeger

The Greek Seed-Tree

Written by Sybrand Veeger:

Greek Seed-Tree

 

Sometimes I wonder…rather,

I’m inclined towards the question:

Is Western Thought’s development analogous to, say,

Benjamin Button’s?

 

That is, was it born mature,

And is now in decline,

Towards immaturity?

 

The metaphor does not do Greece justice, though,

It breaks down upon minimal geometry:

Unlike Button, thought was born strong;

And all-encompassing the Greeks were:

The unrestricted?

 

Plato’s mythological conservatism,

Summoning, say, Poseidon,

Plummeted him,

To hydrate the blossoming

Of dialectic and critique –

No less than the roots

Of thinking.

 

Eclectic,

Were the Greek,

Yet surgically incisive,

And profoundly thorough.

 

Plato’s offspring, Aristotle,

The Greek apogee,

Was bound to a skull,

And could rightly count himself king of infinite power,

Of infinite science.

 

A metaphor for the Great’s teacher’s mind

Could be the cosmic void itself, (any less would fall short, a void):

It expands in all directions, everywhere.

 

Two of an infinity of Aristotelian vectors:

The ethics, the politics,

They go down deeper than all petty moralism posterior,

They’re grounded in the natural,

Governed by eternal and immanent legislation;

They operate, like nature,

Through proportions, geometrics, arithmetics –

By distributions and corrections,

Up and down the topographic plain,

Not the cartographic Plan, of Being.

 

Justice and the Good Life blossom,

Only when facing the Sun,

When hydrated and rendered strong by the elements –

Then they’re virtuosos at equilibrium,

Dancing in harmony,

On the rope of the golden mean.

 

Aristotle’s universal spirit unfolded all spheres –

Like a cosmic bombshell, or an earthly rose, or,

The seed grains of the Western tree?

FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018 Jonas Guigonnat

Collective Memory’s Greatest Trick: Making Us Believe That It Doesn’t Exist

Written By Jonas Guigonnat:

Human beings allow themselves to give a lot of importance to beliefs and if we look at the history of religions, philosophies, social behaviors or political concepts we can clearly see that we allow ourselves to have faith in anything. As it usually seems when it comes to our species of habits, this network of information, this ‘datacenter’, that we call memory plays a crucial part in the way we choose what to believe. There is another dimension to memory. One we tend to forget because it is too abstract to grasp completely, but which, nevertheless, plays a huge role in the way people find their place in the community and the way they interact with other individuals, or how they see other societies. This ‘collective’ dimension of memory ads a twist to our capacity to translate processes into ideas. In other words, most of our intellectual interpretations of the world don’t belong to ourselves, but to a collection of past memories which are omnipresent in every aspect of human societies.

Collective memory seems to play a huge role in our subconscious and pleases our mind when we are looking for intellectual comfort, for what seems ‘usual’ and ‘normal’ to us. The best way to block processes, to overshadow them instead of accepting the uncertainty of a development which isn’t under our control, is to trust this collective memory. We are creatures of habit, but also creatures of comfort. A phenomenon which supports both gives us the feeling that we are safe. Sorry to come so soon with bad news, but there is no such thing as real safety.

Are we doomed to be manipulated by our own beliefs?

If we try to look closely at the state of our current ‘western’ societies it seems that we do are condemned to follow patterns which are nothing else than illusions. In times of emancipation, as much for women as for (ethnic) minorities, we are generally surprised when confronted with the way of thinking of older generations. Until 1945 racism was quite a normal way to consider ‘others’, even in the most democratic countries. Segregation in the United States was still just another aspect of daily politic until the early sixties, and expressions of antisemitism in Europe and in the US were still occurring well after 1945. That some people nowadays still are able to think that way really astonishes most of the younger generations, but it should not be such a surprise. Each generation’s belief is nothing more than the result of past intellectual choices.

Photo by Jørgen Håland

The choices which have been made in the last forty years comforted us into the idea that what we call democracy was the right way to see the world. There is, of course, no universal definition, but the word itself depends exclusively on positive intellectual associations. If you ask someone from a western country what he thinks about democracy, you’ll hear words as freedom, human rights, prosperity, rule of law or social equity. Those are the concept within which democracy is presented and taught. But what if we look at what makes it possible? Wouldn’t we find children making our clothes and mobile phones for one dollar a week? Or African countries where most of the economy is in hand of foreign companies? Wars for oil and natural resources? Do we not find systematically ‘western’ involvement in every bloody conflict of the past 75 years? Asking those questions is already giving the answer. But thanks to our collective memory we still do believe that ‘our’ way is the greatest factor of progress in history.

Collective memory tricks us and goes many times far deeper than what the media shows us or what politics tells us when election time arrives. The way western societies reacted in the past five years to sexual harassment scandals and the creation of the Me Too movement make it seem as if people were surprised to hear what was happening to women almost at every layer of society. If looking for a culprit, collective memory may be here, once again, the one we are looking for. In that particular case, it is not just a question of decades of intellectual choices, but of millenniums. As the great philosopher, writer, and feminist Simone de Beauvoir explained it in the second half of the last century, there is no point in history, as far as we can find sources, where men were not dominating women. To emancipate from something of that scale is just about the most difficult task one can think up.

As confusing and abstract as it can be, what we collectively believe makes us understand the world the way we do. But that doesn’t mean that free will has no part to play. It’s just that it needs to be shared and put into changes, which are taking time and deserve people to be patient. We should continue to forge our own beliefs, but without forgetting what the past tells us about our capacity to create any form of belief. Because memory seems to be what forges us, it becomes the only tangible proof of our existence. Which in the case of collective memory means that we do not only exist as individuals, but also as collective consciousness. One more reason to believe that we all are human beings. nothing more, nothing less.