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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Neuroscience: Wanna remember yourself as a star? Just edit your memory!

In "Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory" (April 5, 2009), Benedict Carey sheds some light on why The New York Times is in such deep financial trouble:
Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.

The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.

So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.
People edit their memories all the time. In fact, that is the biggest problem with memory. We can't rely on it.

The idea seems to be that targeted editing of memories will help with addictions and Alzheimer. Not sure about the Alzheimer, so keep talking.

About addictions: Basically, the "edited" person would just go get addicted again, to the same substance or to some other one. Ways of life and attitudes to life produce addiction; neurons are only an internal support system - either for addiction or recovery.

And get the last sentence:
Yet as scientists begin to climb out of the dark foothills and into the dim light, they are now poised to alter the understanding of human nature in ways artists and writers have not.
Every system I have ever heard of that promotes this idea, from phrenology through eugenics through lobotomy and onward has produced at best folly and at worst misery.

Don't listen to this. Listen to the artists and writers - at least those who have earned respect. Learn from your memories as much as you can, in which case it is best not to edit them much.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


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