Now that the technology is really here to perhaps successfully remove (and restore) memories, it puts us in a different mindset from where we were when “Total Recall” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” came out in theaters. If it seemed like complete science fiction in 1990 for the former film, the latter film still made it seem within reach, if also giving many people confirmation they wouldn’t bother if the real technology came along. Well, now that the University of California, San Diego has been experimenting on rats on how to erase and restore memories, it seems the technology might be perfected within another few years. And all of it may be by laser rather than the crude method in “Eternal Sunshine.”
This isn’t to say it’s going to look like a sexy procedure that attracts as many adherents as other quickie laser procedures have. Or, maybe it would if advertising is compelling enough. Nobody should underestimate the power of advertising today since it seems that anything unique can still capture everybody’s attention. Imagine turning on TV and seeing an ad for a clinic in your local area that offers a laser procedure that stimulates nerves in your brain to either eliminate bad memories or restore good ones.
One of the greatest sociological questions is how people will really react when given the chance to use tech that seemed so far off in the future not long ago. When much of that technology seemed so dangerous (yet tempting), would we really have the guts to go through with it when some have no other alternatives? When it comes to eliminating memories, it can lead to a major philosophical dilemma with one’s self. For those suffering from PTSD after bad memories in the throes of battle, the desperation of wanting to remove those memories might make the procedure a no-brainer. What happens, though, when we start realizing that memories are the building blocks of who we are?
That very question above might be the thing that freezes people on actually doing such a procedure. Do all our memories play a major part in forming the personality of who and what we are? Also, do some specific memories attach to others so that the elimination of a bad memory might be the equivalent of snipping away a significant part of our DNA?
It’s a complicated conundrum that doesn’t have easy answers since scientists who study the complexities of the brain don’t know everything about how important memories might be. There might be a developed fear that eliminating specific memories will change who we are and perhaps alter our personalities in ways that might be positive, yet different from what we intended.
Most importantly, would we want memories restored if we happened to lose them from an accident or due to Alzheimer’s disease? Plus, there’s that rare problem of Hyperthymesia.
Restoring Memories and Taking Them Away
In the immediate term the above new advancements in lasers removing or restoring memories could help those with Alzheimer’s bring back memories that are still in the brain, yet need to be reactivated. It’s overwhelming to think of what would happen when a flood of lost memories surges back inside your brain after those memories were restored, especially after a number of years of slowly declining.
The above rush of memories is similar to how it feels to have Hyperthymesia, something I’ve self-diagnosed in myself to a moderate degree. I’ve thought about what might happen if you could eliminate certain positive and nostalgic memories that sometimes become overwhelming without concentration on something else. After watching “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” a couple of times over the last five years, I was one who vowed never to take away a single memory, despite being consumed by them once in a while. My past makes up who I am today, and taking it away could possibly make me into a different person from what I perhaps would want.
If there’s any fear over this new laser technology, we seem to be assured the memories can be restored if we wanted them back. How do we know they’ll be completely restored, though? A human being will have to be an eventual guinea pig to this in order to help us make up our mind whether we’d go through with it or not. Expect many people, however, to perhaps panic at the 11th hour based on our perception of how valuable our brains are. Even if we know we won’t get the weirdo medical assistants seen in “Eternal Sunshine” during the procedure, our brains may become something we don’t want meddled with in order to assure we stay intact.