Christine Ford's Expert Nonsense

Given her background in psychology, it is not surprising that during yesterday's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Christine Ford should tell us that the laughter of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge is indelible in her hippocampus.  Nor is it unusual that it took the New Republic only a few minutes to publish a characteristically biased and irresponsible article on the subject.

Says Alex Shepard:

The most powerful moment thus far of Ford's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee came when she was asked by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy to describe her strongest memory from the night that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her.  Her answer was both moving and horrifying.

"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," Ford says, her voice cracking.  "The uproarious laughter between the two.  They're having fun at my expense."

"You've never forgotten them laughing at you," Leahy says.

"They were laughing with each other," Ford replies.

"And you were the object of the laughter?" Leahy asks.

"I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed," Ford says.

The exchange underscored how the alleged assault was both traumatizing and humiliating.  It also girded Ford's credibility, which Republicans have gone to great length to attack, showing the extent to which the incident is imprinted on her memory.

Strictly speaking, Ford's claim that "indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter" is nonsense.  And while one would like to be charitable, believing that Ford is simply in error, in view of what seems to be her deliberately heavy breathing and sorrowful manner and tone, we must, I think, conclude that she is being disingenuous: trying to sway everyone via "her expertise."  She is acting, perhaps, on the advice of her cynical lawyers, including Democratic activist Debra Katz.

Anyway, whatever may be her motivation and intent, let us be clear: Ford's claim is ipso facto absurd.  Nor should one need medical training (which Ford doesn't have) or a background in philosophy to recognize that.  For what does it mean to believe that laughter is thus indelible?  Does one have actual access in the implied manner to the hippocampus?  Of course not!  Ford's claim is rather like saying, "I have discussed the matter with my lungs, and we agree that I should give up smoking."

To be sure, Ford may indeed have been almost raped some thirty-six years ago.  She may also have a firm recollection, whether accurate or no, that two men laughed during the course of that evil.  But however all that may be, it won't do for her to talk of laughter being indelible in her hippocampus, if by that she means it's an indisputable fact and the rest of us are to think Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge are guilty on account of her "expert recollection."  As with perception itself, so with the memory it reflects: it is common to unwittingly believe things because they suit one's interestsselectively interpreting both the past and the present to that egoistic end.  This is true whether one is an "expert" or not.  It would be the grossest naïveté, then, to believe that Ford, because of her training, is not prone to the general human errors, biases, and delusions.  After all, it seems that what she is doing is putting her "expertise" to a rather manipulative end.

In any case, contra Shepard, "the exchange" manifestly did not underscore "how the alleged assault was both traumatizing and humiliating."  Nor did it gird "Ford's credibility, showing the extent to which the incident is imprinted on her memory."  From an epistemic point of view, all we really know is what Ford has alleged.  We do not know whether she is right, nor do we even know she is sincere.  I am not saying she is not right or not sincere: for all I know, she is.  My point concerns the vital distinction between what we know and what we merely believe.  It is important to understand that such a metaphysical assertion as Ford's admits of no justification, and therefore is not to be taken seriously. 

Christopher DeGroot is a columnist at Taki's Magazine and senior contributing editor of New English Review.  Follow him at @CEGrotius.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia.

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