Would you believe that scientists may already know how to ‘erase’ your painful memories and even alter and implant new ones…
Well, I am here to tell that, yes, this is no joke and scientists are really working on it.
Erasing someone’s memory? If this sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie to you then that’s because it is. Films like Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and Total Recall have all toyed with this idea. I for one am not 100% convinced but after doing some further reading on this topic, there are some compelling experiments which may prove me otherwise.
(Even though the first image that popped into my head when I heard ‘mind erasing’ was Will Smith in Men In Black holding that little stick which flashes and can cause people to forget what just happened.)
^ Just like that…
Apparently we are now living in a world where that is a real possibility. And thus, the would continues to amaze me.
We all have things we would love to forget- bad breakups, traumatic experiences, loss etc. and no matter how hard we may try memories like these can continue to haunt us. They can even trigger conditions like anxiety, phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder. Scientists are now on the verge of changing this after discovering that our memories are not actually as permanent as we once thought.
They have discovered how to change, delete and even implant memories not only in just animals but in human subjects too. Now, I don’t know how confident I would be to put myself out there and try this out. But it does sound extremely fascinating, doesn’t it?
Drugs that can rewire our brains are already on the horizon. And thanks to the advances of neurological scanning technology over that last number of years, we are now (apparently) closer to creating these sci-fi movies like technologies into a reality.
You are probably wondering, like myself, just how are they going to do this?
Well, there are a few things we need to understand first. In the past, it was thought that memories were stored in one specific spot, like a neurological file cabinet but it is now known that all our memories are locked up in connections across the brain.
I am no science expert but to put it simply, a memory is formed when proteins stimulate our brain cells to grow and form new connections. Once this happens a memory is then stored in and it usually stays there as long as we occasionally reflect upon it.
There is a process known as reconsolidation and it is when we revisit a memory it can change slightly over time. For example, if you fell off your bike, each time you remember it and get upset about it, you’re restrengthening the connections between that memory and emotions such as fear and sadness. Eventually, just the thought of a bike could be enough to make you terrified. Reconsolidation is so important because it’s a point at which scientists can step in and ‘hack’ our memories.
There have been numerous studies to show that by blocking a chemical called norepinephrine – which is responsible for triggering symptoms such as sweaty palms and a racing heart – researchers can ‘dampen’ traumatic memories, and stop them being associated with negative emotions.
By using a drug called propranolol to block norepinephrine, it was tested back in 2007 on victims of a past trauma. The participants were given either propranolol or a placebo each day for 10 days and were asked to describe their memories of the traumatic event. Those that were given the drug didn’t forget the experience, but a week later they were able to recount it with much less stress than they originally had.
In mice, a similar technique has been used to make mice ‘forget’ that a particular sound was associated with an electric shock while leaving other memories intact.
So far, researchers haven’t tried to explicitly delete a memory in its entirety from humans (that we know of, at least), due to the ethical implications, but the evidence suggests that it’s something that would be possible, given the right combination of drugs and recall exercises.
What I find frightening is how easy it actually is for scientists to have the ability to implant false memories. There have been other experiments conducted by using the same reconsolidation process by the psychologist, Julia Shaw, where she was able to make people believe and remember a crime they never committed and even provide vivid details about this fictional event.
It is really crazy how science has grown to make something like this even possible. If they were to perfect this experiment I’m not sure how willing the public will be to have people rooting at their minds, but you never know, it could be the next big craze in years to come? I’m not sure how excited I would be to have my mind erased, so I might leave it to the people who love to live life on the edge and all that.
What is more important and a good aspect from this is the research means that scientists might be able to help treat people with anxiety, phobias, and PTSD.
Are you like me and think this all sounds like a bit of educational nonsense? Or are you convinced? Whatever you are thinking it is still a very intriguing and thought-provoking topic.
So, What is your opinion? Would you be up for getting your memory erased or altered?