28 February 2012

"What's Too Painful to Remember We Simply Choose to Forget"

Misty Water-Colored Memories.... Image Credit: Wired

Every now and then, most of us are stunned by powerful memories of our past. Particular memories may even have the power to bring us to our knees, unexpectedly, repeatedly. If you could erase those memories, would you "simply choose" to do so?
1. Select Memory 2. Intense Recall 3. Nuke Memory 4. Spotless Mind

Scientists are beginning to learn enough about human memories to consider the possibility of developing routine procedures which would allow the selective forgetting of painful memories. In the case of persons with disabling PTSD, or the inability to grow out of a deep grief state, such a procedure might make sense. But what about forgetting a painful divorce or child custody battle? Would you simply choose to forget the time you got drunk at a party and pissed all over your boss's rose garden?

Because memories are mental constructs involving several areas of the brain, they contain a "target of opportunity" for anyone who is looking to obliterate a memory.
When we experience a traumatic event, it gets remembered in two separate ways. The first memory is the event itself, that cinematic scene we can replay at will. The second memory, however, consists entirely of the emotion, the negative feelings triggered by what happened. Every memory is actually kept in many different parts of the brain. Memories of negative emotions, for instance, are stored in the amygdala, an almond-shaped area in the center of the brain. (Patients who have suffered damage to the amygdala are incapable of remembering fear.) By contrast, all the relevant details that comprise the scene are kept in various sensory areas—visual elements in the visual cortex, auditory elements in the auditory cortex, and so on. That filing system means that different aspects can be influenced independently by reconsolidation.

The larger lesson is that because our memories are formed by the act of remembering them, controlling the conditions under which they are recalled can actually change their content. _Jonah Lehrer
Interfering with specific mechanisms involved in putting memories back together again during recall, can actually prevent the memory from re-forming in consciousness.

The current procedures are quite crude, and not always easily replicable -- even in the lab. But the theory is sound, and enough good results have been published to show that there is a way forward if we choose to pursue it.

But would you choose? And if so, what?

Bonus: A brief video primer on how the brain creates and deciphers mood.

One might see a common theme where the brain assembles moods, memories, thoughts, and perceptions using input from several brain regions at once. If one could sit back and observe all of this happening -- in oneself and in others -- the simple understanding of the dynamic medley of neural processes might well allow a deeper acceptance of human flaws and shortcomings.

On the other hand, for would-be dictators, understanding how the brain works provides powerful tools of manipulation and control.

Dictators and would-be dictators are dangerous people. We simply need to be sure that we and those we care about are even more so.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I read this post my very first thought was, "what would it be like to live in a world without shame".

This procedure may start out being used by medical practicioners under specific and controlled conditions - i.e. where the patient can't function normally without treatment, but like all medical procedures it will ultimately fall into the hands of the godless elite sooner or later and be used used to obliterate memories of all sorts of memories, whether traumatic or not. Most likely, it would be used as a 'boutique' procedure to eradicate memories of shame and guilt.

Shame and guilt are powerful demotivators for future bad behaviour, so removing them would remove moral autonomy, and a world without moral autonomy is a degenerate one. When I picture what life would be like in a worls where the rich and powerful live without shame, within minutes I want to open a vein.

The dangerous dictators you write about could end up being our very selves.

Tuesday, 28 February, 2012  
Blogger defendit said...

What did Milan Kundera say.. hmm I don't quite remember word for word but here goes a try:

'The struggle of men against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

Tuesday, 28 February, 2012  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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