Letters to the Editors, February/March 2008

David Biello’sSearching for God in the Brain” discusses the neural circuitry involved in religious experience. Based on my team’s research, I believe that the body’s naturally occurring hallucinogenic molecules are a more fundamental cause of spiritual experience—whether that experience is self-willed or brought about by external means. The powerful hallucinogen DMT has been found in human blood, lung and brain. Clinical research we performed in the 1990s with DMT, which also occurs naturally in many plants, led us to propose a role for the brain-based compound in mystical states. The human body’s hallucinogens may also contribute to other cognitive effects, such as psychosis.

Rick Strassman
University of New Mexico

As a person who has lived with recovered memories for 17 years, I was initially interested in but ultimately disappointed by “Brain Stains,” by Kelly Lambert and Scott O. Lilienfeld.

The article lacks the perspective of an individual who has seriously considered the possibility of false memories but come to the conclusion that his or her own are not fabrications. Instead the authors quote research that is highly questionable—particularly the findings that showed that 100 percent of patients reported torture or mutilation and estrangement from extended families. From my own experience and from what I have heard from others, it is evident that the sampling was biased and does not accurately reflect all recovered memories.

Irresponsible therapists may create false memories, causing serious harm. This issue clearly needs to be addressed. But let us not determine, therefore, that there are no true recovered memories.

Eve Richardson

I am writing to express my dismay at what I consider to be very biased writing in “Brain Stains.” The 1990s saw a huge push by some to debunk the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) and the clinicians who treated DID patients. In response to that effort, many professionals endeavored to address the issues from a more balanced middle ground. Among other results from that decade was the book Memory, Trauma Treatment, and the Law, by Daniel Brown, Alan W. Schef­lin and D. Corydon Hammond (W. W. Norton, 1998). Lambert and Lilienfeld would have benefited by taking ad­vantage of the authors’ well-balanced presentation of the issue.

Instead your magazine has promulgated an inflammatory, biased presentation of traumatic memory therapy. I ask that you invite the response of other authors whose stance is seen as more balanced by mental health professionals such as myself.

Paul W. Schenk
Tucker, Ga.

LAMBERT AND LILIENFELD REPLY: Richardson and Schenk raise several intriguing issues but confuse the question of whether some recovered memories may be genuine (which was not the focus of our article and remains scientifically unresolved) with the question of whether suggestive therapeutic procedures can induce false memories and false identities in certain clients (which was the focus of our article and should, in our view, no longer be in scientific dispute). Moreover, in scientific terms, “balance” does not imply that the truth invariably lies between two extremes—the fact that some people believe the earth is round and others believe it is flat does not imply that the earth is oblong. Indeed, Harvard University psychologist Richard J. McNally and others who have carefully investigated widespread claims for the existence of recovered memories have found most of these claims wanting. Knowing that recovered memory therapies are potentially devastating, as in Sheri J. Storm’s case, it is incumbent on mental professionals to exercise extreme caution.

This article was originally published with the title "October/November 2007 Issue."

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