Thanks to Big Think, I recently learned about an article at Neuroscience News reporting the results of recent experiments at UCLA in erasing longterm memories.
Here’s the big idea… By inhibiting the activity of a specific protein, scientists were able to eliminate or reduce the longterm memory of a marine snail – a snail that shares important neurological characteristics with mammals. Researchers went on to say their study may one day lead to the ability to suppress traumatic memories in humans.
My question is: should we?
Picture this… twelve years from now a Memory Removal clinic opens in your town in a former laser hair removal building. For a reasonable fee, they promise to take away any memory you wish, from the traumatic to the mundane. You, having just broken up with your latest romantic regret, decide to try the place out. A kindly technician straps you into her machine and a few minutes later you walk out of MR Specialties not remembering why you went in to begin with. And now as you walk into your apartment you start to see things that don’t look familiar. What is this ticket stub for? Since when did you like diet sodas? Where did that piece of artwork come from? Later, you head to your favorite hangout where you meet the person of your dreams, only your friends try to talk you out of it. Why? They explain how you just broke it off with this person. When you question your potential love interest, they confide they don’t recall, that they just visited MR Specialties themselves. But then they add they really like you and would like to get to know you… again. You’re sorely tempted. This person does seem like The One and it could be different this time. So, what do you do? Follow your heart? Take the advice of friends?
The above may be a trite bit of speculative fiction, and there are far better offerings in the genre that explore the idea of erasing and implanting memories such as Total Recall, Dollhouse, and especially Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to name a few. If the ability to manipulate memories actually is developed, I’m sure there will be a few select people who could genuinely be helped. But for most of us, I have to wonder if it will only lead to more difficulty in life. To modify an old, wise saying, “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
So what do you think? Will developing the ability to erase memories be a good idea?