Since the beginning of time, as well as the passage of nothing before that, memories have been a stable form of information; albeit one that is questionably reliable. Even though we could selectively choose what we want to remember, forgetting is harder that we had imagined. People, events, accidents, threats, places, images, etc that we didn’t want our conscious mind to associate with, somehow seemed to be etched in our mind.
Just like History, memories aren’t always objective. This alters the past. Our personality and thought process, at a particular time, defined how our memories were shaped. When you try and recall things, you don’t always seem to have a good grip over its perspective, do you?
New Research is showing that every time we recall an event, the structure of the memory is altered; with respect to the present scenario, our school of thought and our personality at that point in time. That is why recalling a traumatic event right after it has occurred burdens us, and induces stress and fear. Traumatic, persistent memories are indeed a case of recall taking a wrong turn.
“Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders.” When Friedrich Nietzsche said that in 1885, I doubt he was presenting us with a case study. The possibility of erasing selective memories from the human brain is startling, but seems to have tremendous potential. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, anyone?
‘The Forgetting Pill’, scientists are calling it. In simple terms, whenever the brain wants to retain something, it relies on a handful of chemicals. Given how Newton’s third law seems to be applicable to most sciences, we can counteract this reaction using our own army of chemicals and therefore, successfully erase our memories.
Scientists have not perfected this technology yet, and because it is still under development, people are only focusing on the rainbow at the end of this tunnel. In the future, the act of remembering will become a choice. This drug that we are developing might or might not cause an imbalance in our other brain chemicals in this process of erasing a memory.
When we begin to question the reality of a memory, things start to fall apart. Our understanding of the human mind is still rooted in a mistaken belief about how memories are created and stored. Even though the creation of a memory isn’t exactly the same as that of a video camera, remembering the past give us permanence. Ancient, pre-modern and contemporary philosophy has taught us that we are who we are because of our past. But, if our most cherished memories are going to be transient and fleeting, does that change who we are?
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe, I don’t remember. Drugs like these are only a hypothetical right now, and restricted to avant-grade labs. Think of all the possibilities, however; all the PTSD patients it could cure. As always, the chances of it being used for trivial things is likely as well. Until that happens though, we get to live with our past.
(When he isn’t writing, the creative producer with The Rascalas watches a lot of ‘cat videos’ on YouTube)