Scientists Find Way to Erase Traumatic Memories
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d
(From the poem, Eloisa to Abelard written by Alexander Pope and used as quote in the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
One of my favorite movies is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which Jim Carrey plays the character of Joel Barish, who finds that his girlfriend Clementine has undergone a procedure to erase him and any memories of their relationship from her mind. Joel decides to undergo the same memory erasing procedure because he is so heartbroken about their break up. Yet during the process of watching those memories disappear, he decides that this is a big mistake. Joel still loves Clementine and despite the fact that some of those memories are painful, he doesn’t want to forget.
The memory erasing procedure depicted in the movie is completely non-surgical and is described as comparable to a "night of heavy drinking" to alleviate any fears to recipients. The concept of targeted memory erasure in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is completely fictional and bears more resemblance to science fiction than reality.
Or does it?
A recent news release from Johns Hopkins Medicine reveals the technology to delete traumatic memories may now be possible. In a report published in Science Express, Johns Hopkins researchers describe a process of removing a protein from a part of the brain responsible for remembering a fearful event. Right now the procedure has been limited to mice but the implication is that they will someday be able to delete traumatic memories of humans.
The team of Johns Hopkins researchers examined fear at a molecular level by looking at the nerve cells of the amygdala, which is a part of the brain where conditioned responses to fearful events originate. They found that when they exposed the rodents to a loud tone, that there were increases in the amount of a particular protein. It was found that removing this protein could, in effect, weaken the connections in the brain created by the trauma and subsequently erase the memory. What they hope to do with this research is to design drugs which could control and remove this protein so that the traumatic memory is effectively erased.
For patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) this research may be especially promising. People having PTSD suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks related to memories of a traumatic life event such as military combat, natural disaster, or sexual abuse. The traumatic memory gains a life of its own as the sufferer re-lives the experience and feels fear when the target memory is triggered. Some theorists believe that medications created from this research combined with cognitive behavioral therapy may help some individuals get rid of the symptoms of their PTSD permanently.
Let’s say that scientists do find a way to make this work for humans. Do you think it is wise or even ethical? It sounds like the basis for some James Bond movie where the villain commits a heinous crime and then gives the victims some drug which would erase all memory of it. It makes me think too of how my mother, in the 1950’s was given shock treatment against her will because she has schizophrenia. She lost some of her memories due to this procedure. But I dare say it didn’t help her any. People suffering from post traumatic stress disorder may view this differently, however. Perhaps there are some individuals who would love the chance to erase the memory which plagues and torments them.
What are your thoughts? Do you think science should be dabbling into deleting memories? Would you erase any of your life memories if you could? Talk to us. We want to hear from you!