Memory Editing: Super Ability or Super Fear?

In LeDoux’s chapter, “Small Change”, the idea of editing or erasing particular memories were discussed and the example was given of a man who wished it was possible to erase the memory of his ex-wife. Manipulating memory is extremely intriguing, but certainly provokes a complicated ethical debate. An old article in the New York Times entitled, “Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory” briefly touches on some of the puzzling aspects of if memory editing would be considered a positive or negative.

Scientists have successfully erased a learned memory in rats with just a single dose of an experimental drug called ZIP. ZIP works to inhibit PKMzeta molecules which increase sensitivity in the synapse contributing to the long-term potentiation of memories. One neuroscientist mentions what great implications this can have for the future in terms of trauma and addiction, both learned behaviors. Does erasing a traumatic memory however effect your self not simply just in a positive way as one might think? A traumatic memory could be linked with other personally important memories that should not necessarily be lost. Often time traumatic memories can bring families closer together or lead a person to become more cautious in dangerous environments. Of course things like PTSD are terrible to deal with, but it’s hard to draw the line to when you are making you life more happy as to when you are deleting something that makes you who you are.

Thinking in regards to addiction the article interesting posed the question, “Would a treatment that cleared the learned habits of addiction only tempt people to experiment more widely?” Right now being in the class Drugs, Brain, and Behavior, we often discuss the other factors that go into drug addiction such as genetics, backgrounds, and expectancies. All of these pre-existing factors that contribute to drug addiction would still exist even after deleting the memory that a person loved the reward of cocaine. This same individual may try something else again not fixing their original problem.

Lastly, the memory enhancing or boosting effects of this drug were suggested, which led me to think of the film Limitless. Basically in the movie an individual is given a secret drug that bestows him with “super human abilities” such as memory. Without giving away the ending, this miracle drug winds up getting him into a lot of trouble leading to the ethical debate that too much control might not necessary be a good thing.

One thought on “Memory Editing: Super Ability or Super Fear?

  1. I think there are many more things going on in in the brain of someone with PTSD or a drug addiction. Erasing the memory wouldn’t change the altered chemistry of certain synapses that have been effected by drug use or PTSD. Eliminating the memory would only help only so much, for the brain has been forever changed on account of these things.


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