Could this be true? (Case described by Oliver Sacks)

But wouldn’t it be the narrative memories that people would adopt, not the somatic ones, given that somatic memories are inherently difficult to communicate? And if, as you say, the most painful memories are the somatic memories without a narrative attached, couldn’t it make them more bearable to be able to attach a narrative to them, even if it’s someone else’s narrative?

Interesting, and unfortunate; social talk therapy/reliving, although essential for so many reasons, is a double-edge sword.

To add to your excellent description, I add something told me in 2010 (see thread) by Dr. Peter Black, then Senior Historian at The Center for Advanced Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and former Chief Historian for the “Nazi Hunters” of the USDoJ.

In the recollections of survivors of Auschwitz–and in most public descriptions–a moment-of-moments --perhaps so graven an image because it at least approaches understanding of the/an individual in that unbelievable land–is the moment when the medical staff and guards decide who goes left, who right, to live as needed or be gassed immediately. For a number of reasonsJosef Mengele (not the chief physician) has become the most infamous–or even known by name by anyone but historians.

We were talking about the values of recollections, and in passing he said that the number of people who said they were face to face with Mengele would have been physically impossible.

FTR (!) my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, mentioned to my wife and me how piercingly blue Mengele’s eyes were at that moment. Years ago, I seem to remember my Aunt also recalling the event, laconically stated something like, “yeah, that was the man.” (Is my “seem to recall” is a continuation of the phenomenon?)

It’s possible; for all I know they were shipped there the same day from different towns in Hungary. maybe they met. God knows.

I worked with an interesting fellow who described taking some drugs then heading out on a road trip. He said he regained consciousness 4 hours later almost 3 ours out of his way, having driven for 4 hours on country roads and missed the highway turn about an hour in. I have no doubt someone on drugs could have sufficient conscious control to do something and then hav no recollection.

Yes, because “being conscious* during the act” and “recording (for lack of a better term) a memory of the act” are seperate events in the brain.

  • for different levels of consciousness: over in the (several) threads on parents forgetting their babies in cars, there’s the link to the Pulitzer-Price article on how memory works and why humans quickly fall into autopilot for things done often, like driving from home to work. So the brain does the driving part conscious enough to not crash, but not conscious enough to notice “I missed the exit”.

It is simply very common for drugs and alcohol and injuries to have the effect of causing short term memories to not be converted to long term memories in the brain.

And so, while you’re “blackout drunk” you’re perfectly conscious, you aren’t another person, you aren’t acting on autopilot, you aren’t in a trance, you aren’t doing things the real you would never do. You’re conscious, you just don’t remember what you did because those memories were never recorded.

I had the same thing happen to me last month, when they gave me some medication for a procedure. They gave me the medicine, I was watching the little lines on the monitor move up and down, and the next thing I know the doctor is talking to me about how it went. But I wasn’t asleep or unconscious, I just don’t remember what happened.

And it is not the case that if I were hypnotized I would recover those memories. The memories aren’t buried, they don’t exist.

I hope your PTSD gets better.

The problem whether with traumatic memories or general ones is not only that the general public, esp. in court cases when memory is important, not only still believes in the “videotape” = memories, once stored, are unaltered, and the only problem is finding them modell, which has been proven wrong through tests.

The problem is also that the brain apparently doesn’t store objective facts as memories at all (because it’s not a computer, and not evolved that way). Different memories are not only stored in different areas - muscle memory on how to do a task goes through different neurons - but also doing a task is stored differently from experiencing an event.
And because our brain easily remembers a story, it doesn’t store facts in one part, and feelings in another; rather, what we felt determines the story, and the facts are then added to make the story believable. Some people might be more inventive, other better trained, but it’s still hardware not equipped for objective remembering.

Sorry, that is not going easy to find. I didn’t read the study itself, only a conclusion, and I don’t remember whether it was a paragraph in a lay book about psychology/ memory, a lay journal, the science section of a newspaper or an internet journal article. I think it was 10 or more years ago, so I don’t even remember whether it was in German or English.
The original study probably appeared in a scientific journal, but I don’t know the correct terms to search the psychological/ Medical journal databases, and even if I find the right abstract, most articles for those areas are behind pay-walls. Sorry.

The little I remember was that psychologists read reports done by police or emergency therapy responders during big plane crashes or bad car accidents (I think it was mostly in Canada) and then looked up the survivors several years later and interviewed them on how much they remembered, and how they felt, and found that in this (diverse, probably small) group, those who had talked very extensivly with emergency counselors after the event, but not slept, had less specific memories and less trauma because of these memories than those who had just given a statement to the police, and been put to bed to recover from the trauma.

Obviously both approaches made sense to cops (who often were not trained in counseling, esp. several decades back) and later to counselors, which themselves were a new introduction (just like in the 90s, when ambulances started carrying teddy bears for kids as support after serious accidents). The interesting thing for the scientists was that letting people rest was not as good as making them stay awake, which at first glance was counter-intuitive, but backed up by studies on sleep and memory retention done in other ways (with volunteers and not trauma).

The question of somatic memories was not raised in the conclusion, it was more on the “kids/survivors who went to sleep and formed detailed memories suffered more from nightmares than those who were kept awake and thus remembered less details from the traumatic event”.

It was the conjuction with other studies that led to the conclusion that it was not only the therapeutic value of talking everything out with the counselor, but rather the biochemistry of staying awake, even without long talking and just coffee.

More studies in that area would be good, but obviously difficult to do in real life.

For one thing, I have no idea how common somatic memory is in PTSD victims or how distressing most people find it to be… I am just an n of 1. I find it distressing because I can’t externalize it, and fight against it logically, I just have no choice but to feel it all over again.

I just get frustrated when folks (nobody here) judge a victim’s actions or recollections of an event without any clue how traumatic memory works. For sexual trauma, for example, one of the most common responses is a form of temporary paralysis, at our clinic the nurses frequently hear the victim “confess” that they froze up. Victims are so often excoriated for this but we have actual evidence that it’s a common response to trauma and that it’s likely the victim was so overwhelmed during the assault, that she was literally physically incapacitated by her own brain. We were shown a couple videos of this threat response in animals and it’s creepy. That’s not even getting into dissociation.

Another example is that when frightened people stab someone, it’s common for them to stab over and over. This is often interpreted as some kind of personal vendetta that should discount self-defense, but it’s just the reality of what people do.

People who try to insert themselves into hypothetical scenarios are working from a place of profound ignorance about how the human brain functions when it’s flooded with adrenaline. It really gets under my skin because I feel that the last things these victims need is judgment.

This is off topic, but we’ve already wandered.

I once met a British woman who’d worked in some kind of aid capacity in Bosnia during the war. She said that the American/Western European approach to the trauma of something like rape is talk therapy–go over it until the memories lose their sting and any lingering sense of guilt or shame is chased away. But the Bosnian women weren’t having it–their cultural response was to ignore the trauma and move on. Were they “wrong”? I don’t think so.

I think that cultural context has to inform our assessment of mental states as well as guilt, innocence, or incapacity. I’m not a total relativist; I don’t thing we should handwave away genital mutilation as just a cultural trait. But going back to the OP, I suggest we judge the case and Sacks’ approach to it in the context of the times.

A little closure on this. First off, upon reflection it was I who confabulated my Aunt supposedly recognizing anyone at the concentration camp. Moreover, I spoke with Randolph Braham, the world’s pre-eminent historian of Hungary during the years of fascism and the Holocaust, who cast extreme doubt on my MIL’s statement, and in passing those of almost all “eyewitnesses,” writing “…After travelling for 2-3-4 days locked in cattle cars the deportees arrived like zombies – dazed and eager just to get some water. The postwar claims of “recognition” must be taken with a grain of salt.”

As I say, FTR, for the rest, his chronology is here: [spoiler]As to your question, here are the facts: The Jews of Northern Transylvania, including those of Dés [my Aunt] and Halmi [my MIL] were rounded up and placed into ghettos between May 3 and May 10, 1944. Those of Halmi were transferred from the local ghetto to the entrainment center of Nagyszöllös (Dés also served as an entrainment center). The Jews concentrated in Nagyszöllös were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in three transports (May 20, May 27, and June 3). Those concentrated in the ghetto of Dés were deported in three transports (May 28, June 6, and June 8).

None of these Jews (or any of the Jews deported from the other parts of Hungary – or Europe) could possibly recognize or identify any of the Nazi doctors or officers in charge of selections upon their arrival in Auschwitz. After travelling for 2-3-4days locked in cattle cars the deportees arrived like zombies – dazed and eager just to get some water. The postwar claims of “recognition” must be taken with a grain of salt. [/spoiler]

I hope we can take away from this that just because someone may not be 100% accurate or clear in their memory doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer terribly.

Randolph Braham, 95, Holocaust Scholar Who Saw a Whitewash, Dies
Randolph L. Braham, leading historian of the Holocaust in Hungary, dies at 95
I mentioned my Aunt to this reporter…