Body Memory

What is body memory?

The theory behind the ‘science’ of body memory is that memories can also be stored within the body itself and not just the brain. Memories can be stored as explicit recalls but also as habits and skills which are implicit. The implicit memory is thought to be “based on the habitual structure of the lived body, which connects us to the world” (Koch, Fuchs, Summa, & Muller, 2012). Body memories are characterized as being emotional, chemical, or kinesthetic information that is kept at a cellular level and which can be recalled by some sort of association with the conditions in which the memory was initially stored (Smith, 1993). This theory offers an explanation as to the existence of memories acquired at a time that the brain was incapable of storing memories as during very early childhood or traumatic events (Smith).

Characteristics of body memory

The modern beginning of body memory came around the 1980's when a plethora of theories started hitting the public and gaining popularity (Smith, 1993). Much of the impact was due to the manipulative and unfounded writings of “recovery psychologists” with support from arguably credible Ph.Ds (Smith). From here came things such as the “12 step method to treat the human condition” which went on to create “survivor psychology” (Smith). Smith also outlines the subsequent rise of many books on the matter and Blume’s theory of “post-sexual abuse/incest syndrome” which is a checklist, with diagrams and scales, for how to diagnose a patient with a rough past and hidden memories. However, Smith’s main point is that there is no explanation nor evidence of how Blume’s, and other’s, theories really came about.


One of the first to argue for body memory was Rene Descartes who said “lute players have part of their memory in their hands, because the facility to move and bend their fingers in various ways which they have acquired by habit, helps them to remember” (Clarke, 2003). Since then, the idea has been further explored and body memory claims to be an answer for our plasticity in and adaptability to various situations and environments (Koch et al., 2012). It is also believed that the different combinations and varying degrees of contribution of the five senses gives rise to the different forms of body memory (Koch et al.).

Current views & followers

Although there are still believers of this theory and authors from universities around the world that continue to advocate its validity, it is very contradictory to the field of neuroscience which, unlike body memories, has reputable and empirical evidence. Probably the most prominent [[#|academic]] attack on body memory was taken by psychologist Susan E. Smith in 1993. In her article, she explicitly calls body memory a pseudoscience attributes its scientific status to the “lack of critical thinking skills and reasoning abilities” in both the mental health sector and general society (Smith, 1993). It is unknown just how many people follow the doctrines of body memory in their personal and/or professional lives today, but it is not unlikely that these believers know that they are “walking on thin ice” (Yapuko, 1994).

But is body memory a pseudoscience?

Evidence supporting body memory & the scientific method

Most of the evidence and rationalizations for body memory are based on subjective observation. Koch et al. (2012) divide body memory into six different forms of procedural, situational, intercorporeal, incorporative, pain, and traumatic memory from an earlier division of three forms. The evidence they present for this are two examples, one of a sailor and one of a doctor. They argue that due to much experience on the ocean, a change in the waters and winds will inform the sailor of an upcoming storm with an implied probably of 100%. Likewise, they say a doctor that has seen an illness many times will be able to eventually recognize a patient with that illness right away.

Although this kind of logic can be widespread in a society, it is not infallible. There is also no consideration of the scientific method and no recorded quantitative evidence. Even meteorology does not claim to be as exact as the sailor, uses many instruments, and works in probabilities, and even then we, the public, find errors in the predictions put forth by meteorologists. As for the doctor example, many diseases have similar symptoms and symptoms can and do vary depending on the stage of a disease so to say that certain symptoms are indicative of one exact illness is farfetched. The scientific method used today calls for replicates of each treatment studied and objective statistical analysis, and most of all the ability to reproduce results from rerunning the experiment. Even psychology, the parent field of body memory respects the scientific method for if an experiment is being done on monkeys then the experimenters will use several monkeys and rerun the experiment. Much of what is written about body memory is collaborated by only one other person who is most likely a fellow colleague or is rationalized in a literary sense. When it comes down to science, a theory should produce statistical similar results across the board, be adjusted, or be replaced but body memory does not seem to follow either of these.

Why is body memory a pseudoscience?

Demarcation criteria

The best definition of science and how to demarcate it we have is a compilation of the postulations put forth by philosophers of science. Firstly, let’s consider induction, the logical positivist approach, and Karl Popper’s theory of falsification. Probably one of the first principles for practising science was induction which produces a general statement based on specific and limited instances. Although it is impossible to not employ induction in everyday life, there is no philosophical justification for induction that does not use induction itself, making it a circular argument (Hume, 1888). So, where it seems to be in our nature to use induction, we cannot induce something and then claim it as a science. However, a slight improvement on induction comes from the logical positivists who stated that a theory need mainly be testable to determine its cognitive significance (Uebel, 2012). This would solve the flaw with induction because if after making an inductive inference, one can test it or finds it to be testable then maybe there is some legitimacy behind the inference. Although it seems pretty straightforward to say that a theory should be cognitively significant but this is not measured against any sort of objective scale it can only be a guideline among many. In contrast, Popper’s theory of falsification is a more comprehensive approach of than the previous one. His states that a theory should be confirmed when it is a result of risky predictions, all good scientific theories prohibit certain things from happening, and every real test of a theory is a genuine attempt at disproving it (Popper, 1963). This idea is almost all-encompassing and quite ideal but rarely is anything in science and the natural world ideal. Understandably, one of the biggest criticisms of Popper’s theory was put forth by Thomas Kuhn who said that Popper’s theory was only really applicable to the rare times that scientists make a breakthrough (Kuhn, 1974). There is little to no common ground between the three aforementioned ideas but they exhibit a progression in how people have come to develop science because the way science is conducted is just as important as the results it releases to the world.
The second set of demarcation criteria to be taken into account are later developments and are somewhat more specific. These criteria are Thomas Kuhn’s puzzle solving criterion, Paul Thagard’s qualifications for a pseudoscience, and Carl Hempel’s deductive-nomological theory. Thomas Kuhn’s puzzle solving criterion calls for growth and revision in the face of a ‘problem’ or any result which deviates from what the current theory says is expected (Kuhn, 1974). This is the way that many sciences today are practised and a big contribution to why a science progresses over time. There also exists a flexibility in this criterion because it allows for disposal of old and introduction of better theories in science. Kuhn’s criterion goes hand in hand with Thagard’s qualifications for a pseudoscience which state that a study is pseudoscientific when it does not progress and when its practitioners make no attempt to further evaluate or improve the theory such that it is in harmony with other theories (Thagard, 1978). Thagard’s qualifications are easily applied to astrology which has not progressed for decades. However, possibly the most important part is where he states that its practitioners make no attempt to reconcile the theory with other theories, yet collaboration and corroboration are important themes in any credible science and are encouraged today. The third of this set is Hempel’s deductive-nomological explanation which calls upon a set of initial conditions coupled with a natural law and from there one can deduce the conclusion (Hempel, 1965). Deductive-nomological explanation offers an excellent framework for explaining why a phenomenon has occurred, however there is a bit of room for interpretation as to what a natural law is and this is the explanation’s biggest downfall.

How body memory measures up

In order to establish if body memory deserves the scientific status it tries to hold lets evaluate it based on the criteria given. Starting with the first principle body memory is actually a very good example of an inductive inference. Using the bulimic young woman example, if many young women whom were abused as children but do not remember the fact and grow up to be bulimic then by induction it would validate the inference that a bulimic woman was indeed sexually abused as a child. There is even false logic to support this, saying that the feelings of disgust and shame at having eaten are directly reflective of her feelings during the abuse and the memory, and that throwing up is an attempt to rid herself of the feelings and consequently the abuse (Yapuko, 1994). From here, it is a plausible conclusion that body memory can be justified by induction but even that is a weak statement. Similarly, body memory also meets the criteria set forth by the logical positivists. The idea and practice that entail the study of body memory is definitely cognitively significant because it could be the key to solving the psychological and psychosomatic problems of many people, and it is easily tested since one of the main criteria is childhood abuse and there are many known cases of such nature. Correspondingly, even moving away from the childhood abuse example, it is easy to test for body memory because any form of memory that involves the five senses can be tested since the five senses undoubtedly exist. However, the theory of body memory and its followers fail in the face of falsification. It is arguable that linking bulimia to childhood trauma is a risky prediction because food is not obviously related to one’s psyche and this satisfies the first feature Popper proposes but it does not meet the other two steps to falsification. Body memory is built on one’s ability to recall memories even when the conscious mind cannot remember them and this encompasses essentially any and every event in one’s life that isn’t implicitly available therefore there is no prohibition to what body memory can and cannot do. Similarly, every time the theory is employed, if the variables don’t add up then the evaluator simply tries to adjust the variables and not the theory which equates to a lack of effort to falsify it. The particular young woman who could not remember her abusive past underwent multiple sessions in which the therapist tried tirelessly to unleash her hidden memories to no avail but the therapist did not take this as disconfirmation of the theory (Yapuko). As was the case with Popper’s theory, body memory does not satisfy Kuhn’s puzzle-solving criterion either. If Kuhn’s criterion were the sole definition of science then body memory would have long been discarded because zero consideration is given to that fact that the results do not match the theory. As was undoubtedly the case with many patients, the young woman had no memory or supporting evidence that she had ever been abused, and that alone is enough to sink an already shake theory, but her therapist kept insisting that the abuse was real instead of considering other avenues the woman may have taken to reach her bulimic state. Not only is body memory not scientific by Kuhn’s convictions because it fails to recognize any problems with the theory, it is exactly a pseudoscience in Thagard’s view. The practice of using body memory as therapy for abuse patients is not an attempt at improving the theory but rather at fixing the subject. Also, its practitioners do not test the theory, they impose it and disregard things such as neuroscience which directly contradicts the possibility of memory being stored anywhere outside the brain. Two principle necessities in science, collaboration and corroboration, are entirely disregarded in this practice. Last but not least is Hempel’s deductive-nomological explanation which body memory does not meet either. At best, body memory can satisfy the requirement of initial conditions in a very convoluted way and only in a case where it is confirmable by an outside source that the subject was abused (or experienced something) earlier in life. As for a natural law, the best ‘law’ in this case would have to state that childhood trauma results in a psychological disorder as an adult but this is non-specific, and psychological disorders are a spectrum instead of discrete units which makes the law ever more questionable. In some cases, depends on the specific examples used and the flexibility allowed to meaning of certain phrases, body memory can meet some criteria to qualify as science, but for the most part and in a more objective manner it qualifies much more as a pseudoscience than anything else.,

Negative effects for people

Body memory was used by many therapists to explain various physical signs their patients were exhibiting. As in the aforementioned example, a young woman suffering from bulimia was told that her manifestations were a result of childhood sexual abuse although she had no recollection of being abused (Yapuko, 1994). We can only speculate as to whether the woman was relieved to hear it because her bulimia was not her fault and now she and her therapist were working to fix it or if it caused her further emotional distress and possibly worsened her condition. While it is arguable if there were real detrimental effects, it did serve as a distraction from the actual problem for which she sought help. However, just how much the theory of body memory affects a person is situation-dependent. If the theory were applied to an athlete or a dancer it could actually benefit them because they would practise more in hopes that their body would retain the moves better, but in this form it is more a motivation than a science.


Body memory is the theory that presumes the body is capable of storing memories throughout itself and not just in the brain. The explanation for this phenomenon is that people can present with memories from a time that their brain was not in a position to store the memory and as such it was stored within the cells of the body. There are different forms of body memory and they essentially comprised of different combinations of the five senses we possess. Body memory has been used to explain certain physical manifestations as being a result of long repressed emotional trauma by the body which is now attempting to release those memories. However, this theory makes no attempt at reconciling with neuroscience which has far more convincing evidence, nor does it present any hard evidence of its own, and no trace of the scientific method can be spotted. Furthermore, not only does it not meet the criteria put forth by famous philosophers of science as to what demarcates science, but it fits the criteria of a pseudoscience impeccably. Essentially, body science may look like science, sounds appealing, and its admirers justify if its status to no end, it does not meet the criteria of being a science and is thus a pseudoscience.


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