May 16, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
When I was in Little League I made the All-Star squad for 3 straight years (good memory). I remember I went 3 for 4 and drove in 2 runs (really good memory). In the bottom of the 9th inning a hard hit ball found its way to my turf at short-stop. I scooped it up and fired it right to first-base as hard as I could. While I recall throwing it on a line, history will argue it was off a bit and went astray. Runner was safe. he later scored in the winning run. Error charged to the short-stop (bad memory).
But wait. Seems that now for a fairly reasonable price I can get an updated, more sophisticated (let’s hope) Electro-Convulsive Shock Therapy (ECT). Similar to the less sophisticated, rather scary treatments popularized by none other than Sigmund Freud but apparently with more precision and less wires and cables.
The idea is that you get induced to remember bad or disturbing memories and then zap (literally) and poof, no more bad memories or recurring nightmares of your prom night (let’s save that one for another blog, shall we?).
Now, aside from the medical risks associated with getting large does of electricity streaming into your body for purposes other than being stun-gunned because you ran away from cops (thankfully not one of my own memories) there are other considerations.
Foremost is, are we not a product made up of, in large part, our own unique memories?
What made the original BladeRunner Movie so intriguing, besides seeing Sean Young not act insane for once and a young Harrison Ford at the top of his game, was the basic question at the core of the movie-If you could create nearly human-like androids and then upload human memories into their core were they really much different from anyone else?
In a genuinely touching scene, Ford’s character (he tracks such droids down and terminates them) realizes that Sean Young (a droid) actually believes her memories are all real. She feels them, remembers the good and bad ones and feels uniquely human as a result. This of course, despite the fact such memories were programmed into her.
So, what happens if we reverse the process? What happens to the core of real-life humans if we simply erase our bad memories leaving us to continue our life with arguably a different perspective? Do we become re-programmed like our BladeRunner friends? Somewhat less human as a consequence?
It’s not a new question I pose. As far back as 46 B.C. the full time philosopher and part-time medic Scribonius Largus treated the Roman Emperor Claudius with electric eels. Seems the emperor suffered massive headaches he thought were brought on by bad memories. Scribonius figured the electric eels would “shock” the bad stuff out and keep the good stuff in. And if my own memory serves me correctly, Claudius spent a good deal of his time in good ol’ Roman orgies so really it’s surprising he had any bad memories at all. But I digress. It is worth noting that it didn’t help and Largus met a rather untimely death for his creative efforts at finding a cure for Claudius.
But in his journal he notes the ethical questions erasing memories does bring when it comes to how we define our humanness.
And now in A.C. 2014 we are still grappling with the professional and personal ethics of doing what Claudius wanted done with ever impressive precision.
Marjin Kroes, a lead researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands has published results of his recent experiments with ECT “bursts” which he claims can strategically erase negative memories and feelings associated with events. It has helped touch off renewed debate in the field of neuroscience and bio-ethics, both as to whether it really works and whether we should be doing this at all.
Of course, we’ve been doing variations of this for years on patients with clinical schizophrenia and paranoia. The outcomes though have generally left patients with nearly no accessible memories, living zombies to some degree.
The difference now is there is growing demand and supply for normal or otherwise healthy folks who simply want to start fresh with a new slate or tabular rasa.
The American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association seem a bit muted on the subject but lobbyists are organizing on both sides of the coin. On one side, many private sector medical consultants and psychiatric practitioners want the Feds to loosen regulations on ECT and similar shock “bursts” such as those practiced by Kroes. At the end of the electric currency there awaits an even more valuable currency (cash) to be made, with estimates already in the hundreds of millions for wealthy and willing participants. On the flip side are human rights and ethics non-profits who assert that this is really “playing God” and similar to genetic engineering or cloning it should be greatly restricted if not altogether banned.
Truth be told, pain and suffering, even if it leads to greater insight and maturity, is not exactly what we do well. We rightfully can now skip commercials or even the “boring stuff” in our movies, shows, entertainment and simply with digital precision get right to the “good parts.”
Why not do the same with our own life?
On the other hand, maybe we should just be less hung up about the past anyway. Ford finally put aside his own ethical dilemma about Sean Young, figured no one really knows how long they have in this world and essentially said let’s live for the now as they zipped off in their Jetson’s style air-ship.
Still, if I could somehow forget the throw I made at the game and simply recall my 3-4 hitting no doubt my life would have turned out far different. Now that is a scary thought.