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Trauma Representation, 2002/03/02:23:19

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artificial intelligence
Because he knows I've been thinking a lot about trauma this year, Frank forwarded a news report about how trauma affects children's brains. And because I'd just been thinking about how trauma might be represented in an artificial intelligence, I responded thus:
Fri, 8 Feb 2002 02:12:09 -0800 (PST)
From: Carolyn Ray
To: Premise Checker
Subject: Re: Sci: Brains of Traumatised Children

Maybe you can think about trauma as wasting valuable storage space.
The experiences don't make sense, so there's no place to put them. They pile up in a stack, walled off by themselves instead of integrating into the database. Once in a while we go over them, still trying to find a place for them, but only manage to remind ourselves of the pain. The psychologist's job is to pop the stack in a meaningful context. They function in our lives chiefly by using up resources that can't be freed up easily for reuse, while our minds depend on massive reuse of scarce resources. The "scar" is unintegrated, incomprehensible data in a pile somewhere.

Because it doesn't make sense, we don't just glance over it and forget it, the way we forget seeing yet another silver car. It is its very incomprehensibility that makes it last forever.

There's a good reason for this. At first, EVERYTHING is incomprehensible to us, and we need to take note of all that confusion for further processing. As we build the database and restructure our minds, that which is incomprehensible occurs less and less frequently, and stands out more and more as something to be re-examined. If, upon re-examination, we can't do anything with it, it just sits around. The things that seem to be the most likely to be incomprehensible are intentional evil on the part of others.
Then, in response to Frank's followup, I expanded on the above trauma thoughts, and connected them to thoughts on dreams:
From Wed Feb 27 20:51:06 2002
Date: Sat, 9 Feb 2002 13:51:55 -0800 (PST)
From: Carolyn Ray
To: Premise Checker
Subject: Re: Sci: Brains of Traumatised Children

> You open up the old question, never addressed
> by Randians, about the nature of malice.
> Ayn Rand took the Socratic line
> that evil is the privation of the good,
> but active malice is much more
> than not doing good or blanking out.

Socrates said this too? I thought that Augustine was the earliest, and
have never been able to find out that it had earlier roots.

I do have some affection for the theory of evil as the absence of good. Clean and simple, explains a lot, fits in with other theories I have. Active malice can fit in here. There are degrees of absence of
good--Augustine put it in terms of turning one's eyes away from the light, and there are degrees of turning. If you turn far enough away, you get active malice. It's not that turning away from the good is just passive; it is that there are intentional actions, but they have no goodness to guide and restrain them.

> I might also add that traumatic experiences
> do not require an actively
> malicious agent but can occur through
> accidents. This suggests that active
> malice is perceived as accidental, as
> an exception to a neutral or
> benevolent universe. Both accidents and
> malice seem "incomprehensible," as
> you call it.

You know, I think it depends upon the person. One person may have a very firm grasp of the fact that the universe just IS, and has no intentions; an accident then doesn't take on the additional incomprehensible qualities of a malicious act. But another person may feel that "everything happens for a reason" or that God is in charge, or that there's always SOMEONE behind any bad thing that happens to them, and perhaps they add malice in where it doesn't belong. Trauma certainly occurs in both malicious evil and in accidents, but perhaps we can live easier lives and steel ourselves against some of the severity of traumas if we aren't inclined to ascribe motives to the inanimate.

> So what happens as one comes to
> understand the mind of one's malicious
> attacker, that the attacker, perhaps,
> lives in an incomprehensible
> universe? A great many people advise
> coming to understand, even empathize
> with, one's abuser, even going so far
> as to forgive the abuser. Knowing
> where the abuser is coming from, on this
> reckoning, makes the world less
> incomprehensible.

Perhaps there are several ways that one can resolve traumatic scars. One might be to come to understand the attacker--if you're a very
people-oriented or psychologically-interested person, maybe this is the most efficient route. In this person's brain, if you will, there are lots of concepts dealing with people and psychology, so going over the "stack" or the traumatic scar is a matter of finding or learning psychological kinds of concepts under which to subsume the malicious actions.

But I'm not sure this is always possible; in some cases, the attacker is so flippin' nuts that asking someone to understand them is asking the impossible. So another person, or even the same person, might instead find a place to integrate the attack, amongst philosophical concepts such as rational and irrational, worth-my-attention and not-worth-my-attention. I suspect it is probably easiest--as is everything except getting paid--for the person with the broadest base of knowledge and the widest range of concepts and experiences, because they will be able to integrate the attack into lots and lots of different places in their conceptual scheme. People whom I've known to be in therapy seemed to do best when they were not just really smart, but really well-read and open to new ideas; people who were more narrow felt they were getting nothing out of it, and quit early. (This is, I grant you, I small sample.)

The more you know and the more connections there are between the various things you know, the more you can know and the easier it is for you to learn, and one might go so far as to say that resolving a traumatic scar is learning.

In fact, to really run with this, as I said in my previous note, traumas come about as a _natural_ and _normal_ part of mind-development. They hurt, but they are not malfunctions. They are the brain doing what it does best: taking careful note of new and outstanding things and storing them assiduously for later re-examination and insertion into the ever-expanding database. Because it takes special effort and even special knowledge to complete the process (as supplied by psychological therapy), these outstanding events tend to sit around longer than others, waiting for the
crucial new knowledge to add to the mix. Traumatic pain, on this theory, comes about as a result of the normal process of avid knowledge acquisition, and thus the resolution of trauma is no different than any other kind of learning. What makes the experience of it different is that (1) there are sometimes people who would prefer you DIDN'T learn this, (2) it is exceptionally painful, (3) it seems that a LOT more sophisticated background knowledge is required to get it done, and (4) we tend to be a lot smarter and more educated by the time we resolve it, so it SEEMS like it was just a simple thing that we should have gotten long before this.

To sum up the current wild theory with a metaphor, traumatic scars are a window into the hidden underlying structures and processes that make
intelligence possible.

This is what dreams are too: They are the stories we tell after a brief accidental glimpse of the scanning of the stack of today's experiences against the entire database. Upon waking in the middle of this process, we find a bag of jumbled concepts that our conscious minds would never have thought to put together, and we scramble to confabulate a story that will make sense of what in most cases doesn't make any sense. (At least, mine don't!)

Since the stacks of traumatic experiences sit around to be gone over again and again, sometimes that is what we feel we have dreamt about, and those are retold as nightmares. My boyfriend Maurice, for the first year I lived with him, woke up every single morning saying, "I dreamt about Lawrence again." Then he would tell a barely coherent and usually very frightening and hideous tale. Lawrence was a childhood "friend", a very mean one. EVERYthing that Maurice did during the day seemed to have to get compared against the Lawrence Trauma Stack while he slept. I think he remembered these dreams because his sleep schedule was very bad, so he was always waking up in the middle of the database-scanning. Because he couldn't resolve Lawrence's actions and intentions toward him, they sat in their stack for years, and had to be scanned every night. Recurrent nightmares are evidence of persistent stacks (and of disturbed sleep schedules!).

This adds more reason to think that Electro Magnetic Field Therapy is a load of bunk. You HAVE to look at what's in the stack, in order to make the pain go away. Tapping on various parts of your body isn't going to do it, and there is little reason to think that it would anyway. A conceptual shake-down is what is needed. Tony Robbins is wrong too; his strategy is just to ignore the bad stuff and focus on the positive--in other words, repress the traumas even more.
Note: The names of persons in
the above examples have been changed to protect their privacy.
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