Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nepenthe

Yeah, I'm going to say that this looks rife with potential for unintended consequences:

Soldiers haunted by scenes of war and victims scarred by violence may wish they could wipe the memories from their minds. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University say that may someday be possible.

A commercial drug remains far off — and its use would be subject to many ethical and practical questions. But scientists have laid a foundation with their discovery that proteins can be removed from the brain's fear center to erase memories forever.

"When a traumatic event occurs, it creates a fearful memory that can last a lifetime and have a debilitating effect on a person's life," says Richard L. Huganir, professor and chair of neuroscience in the Hopkins School of Medicine.

..."Erasing a memory and then everything bad built on that is an amazing idea, and I can see all sorts of potential," she said. "But completely deleting a memory, assuming it's one memory, is a little scary. How do you remove a memory without removing a whole part of someone's life, and is it best to do that, considering that people grow and learn from their experiences."

...Wolpe could see only limited uses for erasing a memory for now, such as for those suffering after a rape or single terrifying event.

"Certainly, there may be appropriate applications," he said. "But human identity is tied into memory. It creates our distinctive personalities. It's a troublesome idea to begin to be able to manipulate that, even if for the best of motives."

I don't dismiss this lightly, let me add. My mom thought I had total recall as a toddler (I don't), and I've had others suggest that I have a memory often found among people with some of the mild autism-spectrum characteristics (which seems plausible from what I've learned since then). I've actually long been in the habit of pretending to forget things occasionally, or downplaying how easily I can remember odd details even after long periods of time, because I've found that it tends to freak people out. Probably because they assume that only an obsessed stalker could possibly remember that much.

So I'm very well aware that there are a number of things that would probably increase my overall happiness were they to be surgically removed from my memory, but still, I'd never choose that option, especially in light of the theme we were just discussing.

1 comment:

Shanna said...

Another example of science fiction foretelling human "progress": http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/ff_tron/

Except this one goes meta: a movie about the past, about a movie about the future. It's like some weird Moebius strip