This weekend, I attended the 40th Maine Biological and Medical Sciences Symposium at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory with the wonderful Glenn Lab. During the poster sessions, it was extremely exciting to inform others about our research and to learn about other researchers’ endeavors. I also watched a number of presentations varying from significant molecular events in osteoblastogenesis to prenatal choline supplementation protecting against MK-801 toxicity (presented by our fantabulous lab mate, Chelsea Nickerson!) By the end of the day, my brain was swamped with information interconnecting molecular biology, neuroscience, and psychology. I figured I could complement my highly intellectual day with a night in the dorm with friends watching Supernatural. But I somehow thought of neuroethics while watching Supernatural because ideas related to psychology and neuroscience do not seem to escape my thoughts, ever.
First of all, Supernatural is a show that follows the lives of 2 brothers, Sam and Dean, hunting paranormal creatures. In the episode “Bloodlust”, Sam and Dean question the morality of killing vampires that do not harm humans (a.k.a. “vegetarian” vampires.) Dean argued that things should be viewed as good versus evil, and evil must be eliminated. Since vampires go under the evil category, their death is just. However, Sam argues that they were actually taught to kill creatures that harm humans, which are thus evil. Are the vampires still considered evil if they do not harm humans?
All this deliberation on the ethics of hunting paranormal creatures got me thinking about neuroethics! Just the previous day, we discussed in our psychology and neuroscience seminar about the ethical concerns regarding the use of memory dampeners. The following questions arose: Are people obligated to remember traumatic experiences (for example, the Holocaust) for the benefit of the rest of us? Does altering memory alter personal identity and reality? What constitutes an appropriate use of a memory dampener?
I think memory dampeners would indeed be good tools to have, especially for preventing mental debilitation after experiencing traumatic events. However, I think many details need to be ironed out before going about and dispensing them. I cannot help but imagine the misuse of memory dampeners. I can see people popping a memory-blunting pill after every unhappy, painful event—no matter how minor—such as a break-up. Where do we cross the line? How do we enforce this line?
I only hope that the distribution and use of memory dampeners will not leads us to become like the society in “The Giver” by Lois Lowry: In an attempt to eradicate pain and maintain happiness, they loss knowledge.