“What is a self without memory?” Need to Know’s Sal Gentile wondered in a Daily Need post last week following the announcement that two scientists may have found a way to lessen the power of painful memories, and possibly even erase them. Our readers responded with a flurry of opinions on the implications of being able to erase traumatic memories from the brain, with most balking at the idea.
KJ doubted scientists’ abilities to fully understand the impact of such a procedure on other parts of the brain:
To remove a part of the brain that a doctor considers malfunctioning is folly. These doctors are foolish because they aren’t willing to admit the limitations of their knowledge. They have no idea the totality of how that section of the brain functions. If they think they do, then they have flown past naive and stupid, to landing at arrogant and outright dangerous. Can they truly state (and if they do, they will solidify their stupidity) that they know fully all the chemical relays, all the ionic, and micro-electrical functions of EVERY neuron and every cell of the brain?
Lynne Howe wondered whether erasing painful experiences from memory would prevent some from learning from past mistakes:
This article gives one pause, especially when combined with a reading of Philip Yancey’s book titled “Where Is God When It Hurts?” Yancey proposes that pain can be a good thing in some cases, such as the pain felt when touching a hot burner on a stove wires us to be careful to not do that again; or walking on shredded glass with bare feet and bleeding profusely would allow us to be wary of broken glass. I’m thinking that this premise also works for a post-traumatic-stress situation, too — that was painful, so let’s NOT do that again. What will happen if those pains, and the memories of such, are removed? Will we then be condemned to lives of needless repetition and suffering?
But another reader, laharris55, disputed the idea that traumatic experiences are results of choices:
This assumes that people have made a choice and were, therefore, traumatized. However, many traumatic experiences, such as violent crime (including sexual assault), childhood physical and sexual abuse, etc., are certainly not part of a choice. PTSD (and Rape Trauma Syndrome) can be very debilitating and forever change the way a person experiences the world, so I am open to hearing about any new developments that can address these issues. Being able to vividly recall how damaged and evil your perpetrator was is not a “teachable moment.”
Charles Kelley worried about potential abuses of such technology:
Given the history of human beings, I have grave doubts about their altering the memories of others. I think it’s rife with too many ethical and moral dilemmas, and I hope bioethicists give clear guidance to the medical and psychotherapeutic communities. Without it, there will be widespread abuse especially by persons who fancy themselves the saviors of humanity. I don’t want to see people suffer from their traumatic memories by any means. But it seems to me a way less susceptible to abuse is to teach the person (adversely) affected by traumatic memories a way to live with those types of memory.
And on Facebook, a fan by the name of Heidi argued that because everybody copes with traumatic experiences differently, the procedure might serve some well:
Some people seem to deal with trauma better than others. Some people make it through the pain and find a way to make themselves a better person. Sometimes the horror they experience enables them to help others, but some people become completely debilitated. Some people live in a constant nightmare and have been through things that make rape or the sudden death of a loved one seem mild. Some people have been through less than that and wind up mentally and emotionally scarred. We’re all different and can never really know how something traumatic will affect us until it’s happening. I don’t think this should be used often, but I think there are people who may have an opportunity to live much happier lives because of it.
Would you support the availability of this kind of technology for some who might finally find internal peace from erasing traumatic memories? Or would you side with the commenters who doubt that such a procedure could be handled without consequence?