Bizarre remembrances under hypnosis

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The veracity of events recalled under hypnosis is considered by most experts today to be problematic to determine. Hypnosis facilitates the recall of details in good subjects, and also facilitates the manufacture of details during recall hat were not neccessarily present previously. This in fact is characteristic of ecall in general, which has been demonstrated to be far from a permanent nd unchanging record, but more a dynamic and adaptive process; a shape-hifting moire pattern of sorts, conforming to inner needs and ongoing mental ctivity, more than a videotape recording of the precise details of perceptual vents.

There is also some evidence that hypnosis may additionally aid in providing state-specific' context to aid in the recall of information and experience of which the individual is otherwise normally unaware.

Which of these complex and incompletely understood processes is dominant in the recall of someone's extraordinary memories of seemingly implausible vents is extremely difficult if not impossible to determine from the hypnotic ession alone.

Neither claims of unimpeachable veracity under hypnosis (the 'hypnosis as ruth serum' idea) nor those of hypnosis being completely unreliable in acilitating recall ('false memory') stand up to close scrutiny as a general principle applicable to all cases of controversial hypnotic recall. The best vidence available seems to indicate that hypnotic methods can sometimes be valuable in a number of ways, both to the individual's psychological health nd in helping to gather factual information, but that they should not be relied upon by themselves or given special preference over other kinds of testimony or such things as legal evidence, nor considered to be accessing anything like a perfectly faithful permanent record of past perceptual events.

This section closes with an illustrative philosophical excerpt from a recent

"While pointing out the overlap between emotion and memory, I want to emphasize that memory is not simply a fixed look-up table. It too is a creative process during which the state of the brain's electrical fields change. The sensory cortices generate a distinct pattern for each act of recognition and recall, with no two ever exactly the same. They are close enough to cause the illusion that we understand and have seen the event before, although this is never quite true. Each time we recall something it comes tainted with the circumstances of the recall. When it is recalled again, it carries with it a new kind of baggage, and so on. So each act of recognition and recall is a fresh creative process and not merely a retrieval of some fixed item from storage."

"Furthermore, persons, objects, and events are not perceived in their entirety but only by those aspects which are, have been, or can be experienced and acted upon by an observer... "

"... All that we can know about anything outside ourselves is what the brain creates from raw sensory fragments, which were actively sought by the limbic brain in the first place as salient chunks of information..."

"... Put in a more familiar context, artists and creative writers look at the world in a certain way. It is the same world that everyone else sees, but seen differently. Contemporary people often call artists weird because they do not seem to be seeing the same things that the majority sees. It is critical to realize that the sensory gateways that feed into the brain establish their own conditions for the creation of images and knowledge. Artistic giants knew full well that their visions were not shared by most people. Even when persecuted or abandoned because of their vision artists persist. That is all the can do because their visions are their reality, and for many of us they subsequently become our reality when we experience their art."

(copyright (c) Richard E. Cytowic, MD)

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