Haunted by Bad Memories? Just Erase ’em all. For a Price.


May 16, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013

ECT old image

No one was really um, shocked when this gadget didn’t work out so well for the patient.

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.

ECT jack nicholson

Nasty yes, but it did earn Jack Nicholson an Oscar award, so why not?

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.

bladerunner sean young

If you are into droids who smoke, really then does it matter that her memories aren’t her own?

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.


On closer examination, it may have been those dreadlocks causing his headaches and not that other stuff.

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.

ECT avengers

The Avengers post ECT therapy?

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.

ECT funny

Go ahead and play God with me, I don’t want to remember Tequila night at Rosie’s bar anyways.

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.

Bladerunner ship

Beats getting caught in rush hour traffic even if there are deadly droids on the loose.

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.


Go ahead and erase my little accident in your morning slippers. We’ll both feel better afterwards. Promise.




28 thoughts on “Haunted by Bad Memories? Just Erase ’em all. For a Price.

  1. Rebecca L says:

    This is going to be slightly off-topic for a moment; bear with me. Recently I heard a piece on NPR about Gen Y and Millenials wanting to have “that job that makes them happy.” Why wouldn’t they? Their entire life they’ve been told by their Baby-Boomer/Gen X parents, “only do a job you love. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it.” So, these same Baby Boomer/Gen X parents are now wondering why Johnny and Susie don’t have a job and still live at home. Really?

    The radio piece went on to compare this with the Greatest Generation. When WWII was over, these men and women really didn’t give two hoots about whether they loved their job or not. Work served a purpose: to provide money to live and raise their families. They worked to get the best job they could, happiness be damned. Happiness was found at home, in their civic organizations, country clubs, etc. Poor Greatest Generation. Not only did they have to endure the war, but this hideous life in a job that didn’t bring them daily bliss.

    if you compared these two groups, which would appear socially, emotionally and economically healthier? The group that has had multiple extrinsic forces working to create a life with no bad memories, or the group that, through no fault of their own, became the possessors of some of the worst memories of the 20th century?

    I am the daughter of a WWII vet who had severe PTSD and flashbacks literally until the day he died. This not only shaped his life, but mine, my mother’s, my siblings’. If i had the power to shock him and erase those memories, would I? Maybe. Maybe I would. And yet, some of our sweetest, most precious moments together are knitted and purled through those memories….

    …My father served in the Navy. Seventeen years ago this July, my husband took me to visit his ship. When I walked on board, I began to weep. It was a tangible connection to my father as a young man, vibrant, healthy, virile. I climbed inside the very same gun turrets where he learned to catch shells. I made my way through the same narrow passageways below deck. The tears streamed; it was a visceral reaction that I wasn’t expecting. As I was leaving the ship, I tripped over a small piece of the deck that had come loose from its slat. I looked at my husband. Looked over my shoulder. Bent down and picked up that small piece of deck and put it in my pocket. Later that summer, I went to visit Dad. He was blind, agorophobic, dying from myesthenia gravis, cancer, diabetes, dimentia and amputations. He was very sick and only 70 years old. “Daddy. Hold out your hand. I have something for you.” His atrophed gnarled hand reached out. “It’s part of the deck of the USS ____. I brought it home for you.” Tears began to well in his eyes. “How did you get it?” he whispered. “It doesn’t matter, Daddy.” He sat long in silence and stroked that piece of smooth, weathered wood. Quiet reflection. Memories of his youth, brothers in arms, pride, courage. I wouldn’t take that from him for anything. And I wouldn’t want anyone to take those precious moments from me.

    • Rebecca-Very powerful stuff! In a related piece, there is apparently an investment group that is marketing to the 25-25 age group with money and promising to make every memory blissful and have life be ‘as it should be, and as we deserve it to be” by erasing any negative memories. The distinction between the groups you mention is profound.

      • Rebecca L says:

        If someone were to give me this machine and say, “turn it on and you will get what you deserve,” I would be terrified.

    • Nicole says:

      So lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed your post; made my eyes well with tears also.

  2. Yazmine L says:

    Well, I feel that older generations messed up so much and there is so much bad memories and negatives today that if it was safe I’d ECT all the bad memories out! Why shouldn’t I live bad memory free. I DO deserve it!

  3. Bradley M says:

    Hey, people drink and take drugs to forget, why not zap the bad memories away? That way life can be good! And let’s not forget past generations had to be heroic because they caused all those wars!

  4. Paulina M says:

    Nonsense! We are our memories good and bad. As Rebecca points out even the bad stuff draws us together. If you don’t want anything negative just live in a bubble. Maybe that will be the next trend for the wealthy!

  5. Pat B says:

    As someone who has the majority of her life behind her, not ahead of her, I would not relinguish one single bad memory – no matter how painful they might be or how much money someone might offer me.

    It is the sum of ALL my memories, the good and the bad, that have made me the person that I am today. I believe I have more compassion for others as a result of some of those tough memories. I have lost babies – tragic memories – but ones that I wouldn’t relinguish for anything. I have failed in relationships – but have learned from them and grown from them. Would I want to relive them – no way! But I don’t ever want to forget them either.

    How can you possibly comprehend the sweetness and joy of life if you have never experienced or don’t remember those tough times in comparison? How can you appreciate successes if you fail to remember the failures?

    No thank you – I will keep those bad memories and cherish the good ones all the more because of them!

  6. Sabine R says:

    Honestly, I really can see how people want to keep all their memories good and bad and I guess it does make them who they are BUT not for me. Life is too short to have any pain at all!! I say hook me up and let’s get it over with, tomorrow’s a new day free of bad crap!

  7. jatvsu says:

    It’s interesting how, as much as science rejects God, the goal is to BE God. Like isolating our “good” and “bad” genes to make The Perfect Baby Girl/Boy (you even get to pick!), ECT strives to help an individual be perfect. Now, as a person who is paralyzed by perfectionism at times (yes, I battle those screaming banshees Anne Lamott talks about in my head when I write, and she nails it when she says that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor), I inherently know I’m not perfect. Does it plague me at times? Absofreakinglutely…hell, it took me HOURS to compose some of my discussion posts! But I digress.

    This stuff is badnewsbears. Look at younger generations. They’re apathetic as it is. They do live in a bubble, thanks to Mommy and Daddy. Their poor little twisted souls aren’t on a first-name basis with pain, struggle, heartache. Are they lucky? Not really. I agree with Pat here. Would I love to erase that bad memory of that mistake of a marriage I had? Hell yes! Sign me up tomorrow. I’ve got a laundry list of things I’d love to make just go away. HOWEVER, as much as those bad memories suck, they’ve been lessons, experiences that have helped shape me into the person I am today. Bad and good, happy and sad, those memories and experiences are ME, and I kinda like who I am.

    This whole utopian ideal is unrealistic. Perhaps instead of an ECT, we just need to be hip checked from time-to-time…it’s gotta be cheaper, right?

    • Rebecca L says:

      Was that a hockey reference at the end? If so, then add a new set of teeth to the things that would need to be perfected! 🙂

  8. Jacki G says:

    “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” It might sound cliché but I agree with this much used and perhaps even overused quote. My worst memories have made me who I am. My bad memories are what keeps me from making again the stupid decision that made me experience something awful in the first place. To be honest, the idea of erasing all bad memories is disturbing to me. This is an extreme example but, what if an escaped murderer is haunted by guilt of killing someone in the past? He has the option of erasing this memory…does it happen again if he has not learned from his mistake? Sure, we could erase the pain of losing a loved one or the pain from the bad relationship that left us scarred forever. But where would we be? We would all be stuck in a child like mentality incapable of learning from our mistakes and living in denial. This might be an extreme opinion, but in my case I am highly opposed to this type of technology.

    I am sure there may be instances where it would benefit some people who have been through severe traumas. Some people have memories that leave them paralyzed and incapable of living normal lives. This may be good for a few select people. I do not think it should be available to the general public.

  9. Cynthia H says:

    I wouldn’t want to simply zap my bad memories away. I realize there are those who have experienced great traumas, but in taking away their bad memories, you are erasing the individual person. Moreover, how would we define a bad memory? It could be as simple as having suffered a break-up/divorce, or something more profound such as a violent rape. Again, this is just my opinion, as many would also classify the divorce as profound. I fear that many medical professionals would see this as a quick fix, rather than teaching the individual coping skills. We already see this with medicine. Our bad experiences, be it super horrible or mild, give us the opportunity to grow. Rather than focusing on forgetting the bad memories, we could focus on using it as an advantage. For example, someone who was abused as a child, may find it easier to relate to young children. They may serve in child protective services, understanding the need for removing children. I am not saying that we should allow folks to suffer, but I firmly believe in the need for couseling in combination with meds, rather than a quick fix alternative.

  10. Scarlett T says:

    First of all, and I may be a bit off base here, but since when has electric shock treatment had positive results? It fries your brain people. Then again a tanning bed fries your skin and gives you cancer but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to be tan, so we do it anyways. The way I look at this is your bad memories, (pain, guilt, etc) all shape you as an individual. You learn from those mistakes and you try not to repeat those experiences that caused you pain. If you take away those feelings, what is stopping you from repeating that experience and experiencing new pain? It’s like you fried your brain for nothing. Doesn’t seem very effective to me. In fact, this seems stupid. Who wants to be like everyone else anyways? Be content with the person and the memories you have and if your struggling, drink some tea, do some yoga, or read a book and stop whining.

  11. Michael R. says:

    My first initial apprehension towards this medical procedure is the extreme medical risks. Call me crazy, but I do not think erasing any number of memories from my remembrance warrants massive amounts of electricity pulsed throughout my body. Has such a procedure ever been “successful” i.e., effective? Sure patients may have forgotten instances from their respective lives; however, was this actually due to the treatment? My guess would be that their memories were erased simply because their brain and its functioning capacity were erased. I also would be fearful of the side effects from ECT. As an aside, I suspect that ECT is utilized as a last resort option for patients. I too suspect the treatment to be quite expensive!

  12. Jennifer M says:

    I think this would be a terrible idea. I agree with many of the above responses, that your memories good and bad, shape your future and who you are. The other thing that would worry me would the abuse of this type of procedure. If people knew that they could do something and not have to forever live with the memory of it, would that lead them to make morally bad decisions? When you make a mistake and have a bad memory of it, normally it deters you from doing it again. If that factor is removed then what stops people from doing bad over and over again?

  13. Anya C says:

    i believe the both good and bad memories help mold a person, but I know if I could select a few of those bad memories that caused me issues throughout life, then I might would try to erase the very bad ones. Some I would possibly leave because they have taught me so many lessons and actually brought me in contact with people I would have never met without them. Often times I wish I could throw some memories into the sea of forgetfulness. It would please me greatly. Overall, I probably wouldn’t erase because I am who I am and I help those who have been through the same issues, and can we really stop bad from happening? No.

  14. Cassidy C. says:

    If someone asked me if I wanted to get rid of all my bad memories, I wouldn’t do it. As nice as it would be, our good and bad memories are what make us who we are. God created us with memory for a reason. It could be your testimony to help others out or give someone hope. If you got in trouble for something, it’s a bad memory and you probably won’t do what you did again. If all of those memories were erased, would you make the same mistake again just to have to relearn what you already had? I don’t think this is a good idea for anyone to do.

  15. Rebecca K says:

    For several years I worked on a research project studying behavioral health centers across the US. I can say that this is still used, mostly in adolescent facilities…maybe because it it thought they are still young enough to regain their brain cells?! While this is rare it is still used, of course in a different manor than previously. I’ve visited places where lobotomies used to be common and the places are filled with a haunting reality of humans search for curing people of all kinds of things! Anyone who has read or seen a Clockwork Orange knows of aversion therapy. But I guess a better example relating specifically to personal choice of erasing memories is the movie Eternal Sunshine for a Spotless Mind. In this there is a business that will erase memories and people from your mind. The movie does a very good job showing what could happen when you have something so significant changed in your mind. I think that even if you could erase a memory you can’t change all the other associations that come with it. You might still get a weird feeling when you see, smell, touch something. Like you said in this post I’m pretty sure I remember things with my interpretation/influence on what really happened. Sometimes that’s with a better twist and sometimes something more negative. The human mind is a wild thing that we mess with enough on a daily basis!

  16. Rachel B. says:

    We all have bad memories in our lives. They help shape who we are. Sure I’d love to forget how I sliced my head open in 10th grade but even without the memory the scar would always remind me something happened. I’ve lost people I cared about which is never easy. A dear friend passed away from cancer, and as hard as it was losing her I would never want to forget anything she taught be about life and even what she taught me in death. Bad memories are hard but they hold significance in what they taught us or made us feel. I can’t even imagine having only good memories. That just isn’t real life. It isn’t how we were made to be. I can’t even believe there are people who would want to erase the bad things that have happened in their lives. What do they plan to do go get this every other week to erase any newly created bad memories? I’m sorry but shocking myself with electricity for any reason just does not sound enjoyable. Plus what if it doesn’t work? Or what if you accidentally shock away a good memory that you would never want to forget? We are made to feel things both good and bad. Take away part of that and we are trying to play God. The whole thing sounds risky, not to mention incredibly stupid. I honestly hope this never becomes an option for people to be a part of.

  17. Marquis S says:

    Life is a series of ups and downs, good times and bad times. I feel that there will always be more bad memories, just as there will always be more good memories. This approach could become addictive. What’s to stop someone from wanting to continue to spend money erasing their bad memories as they continue to encounter life’s difficult experiences? It could easily become out of hand.

    Bad memories can be motivation for a lot of good things. The feeling of failure can motivate someone to make the necessary changes to become successful at what they once failed at. Going through trauma and overcoming it can become a testimony that is used to help other people who have gone through a similar experience. People who experience tragic losses in their lives and in their families often become inspired to create charities and non-profit initiatives to benefit those with similar circumstances or to work towards solutions for the tragedy.

    And also, what happens when someone goes through this procedure to forget the memory, only to be reminded of it by someone in their life or by something in their environment? Then they will remember it, and it will have been a fruitless endeavor. Just because we don’t remember something, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And it doesn’t mean that the consequences of it cannot still occur. Going through it and remembering it can give us the tools to avoid it in the future.

  18. Xenia J says:

    I strongly believe our experiences greatly influence who we are. I have never been the type person to sit and contemplate my navel; I am not by nature a curious type. However, I do enjoy learning new things and I’ll take the vacuum cleaner apart for a repair, out of necessity, but never just to see how it works. With that being said, there must be a reason we recall certain memories and forget other events and experiences. The reason doesn’t really matter to me. Regardless, there will be no tampering with or manipulating of my mind and memories.

  19. Ashley G says:

    I think our memories make up facets of our personality and how we dealt with some of those situations helped build our character. Erasing bad memories is a cop out way to deal with things and the human race will suffer. Mistakes made and bad things that happen occurred for a reason, and the lessons learned are priceless and can keep some of the same things from reoccurring in the future.

  20. Luke E says:

    This is a very interesting topic. Before reading this, I never thought about the morality issue here. That said, I don’t think there is anything immoral with wanting to work through bad memories. An individual can work through a memory by speaking with a preacher, parent, spouse, or therapist. Having the memory removed is another way of working through it. As mentioned in the article, people have been wanting to forget bad memories for centuries. Therefore, I don’t see an issue with it. However, if this range of therapy is ineffective and harmful it should be outlawed. Personally, I wouldn’t seek this type of treatment. Mainly, my good and bad memories make me who I am. It is experiences and there effects on us that temper us. This tempering not only makes us stronger, but makes us who we are.

  21. Jill V says:

    Zap and poof…not only do you lose your memories, but I bet you lose your “mind” as well. There is no way I’d ever ever consider this. Not only does the research for this sort of thing probably not exists…because I believe if it did, the people who might be leaning towards the decision of considering would completely back out. Seriously though, the medical risk…one could only imagine.

    Like many who have already posted, memories make us who we are. If we could just erase everything or anything anytime we wanted, what would be our consequences? Would we ever learn from our mistakes, or would it even matter because we would know we could do whatever again and again and it not matter? I think this is terribly sad. Granted I realize there are some that have been through very traumatic and life changing events that they’d want to forget on a daily basis, but I bet that even if this were to be something they participated in, they’d regret it later. We are who we are because of what we’ve been through. That’s what makes us human, and that’s what makes us all unique.

  22. Nicole says:

    I am a believer; in God, and in the life he has planned for me. It is for this reason I do not believe in selecting the parts of that life only I wish to recall. I believe that the bad memories we endure are just as important in our lives as the good ones. It may even be argued that the bad ones are more influential in our personal evolution than the positive memories. There may be exceptions, but who is qualified to make that criteria? We, the American people are becoming a nation of weenies. I say we endure and be better because of it.

  23. tarac says:

    I have heard of ECT being used for Schizophrenia and catatonia with a good success rate, however, now scientist are using this therapy for severe major depression and bipolar disorder and many things that I have read the scientist are still unsure how it works for these two disorders. After reading the NIMH website about ECT it really reassured me that it’s just a normal simple procedure of just placing electrodes in the precise locations on the head and pass an electric current through the brain which causes seizures. Oh, it is administered under general anesthesia, to ensure it is safe and pain-free!! The treatment doesn’t always stop there, most of the time you have to go to several treatments and then keep going to maintenance treatment. There is no guarantee that the memories that were just zapped away will not return or that the memories you want to wipe away will even be gone or that you will not have huge gaps in your memory of every day things in your life. Bad memories do not have a huge red flag on them. What happens when you have ECT and ooppss, you now have no memory of all the wonderful things that ever happened in your life and you run the possibility of never making a good memory again but those bad memories are still there? Even though through brain mapping, we know the left side of the brain is where our memories and learning are on, you will never know which memory you are taking away. I think I will keep my bad memories. I do think that using the ECT for schizophrenia and catatonia do serve a purpose with medical results that do benefit the patient for their everyday life, but just to make your life better by removing bad memories, nope.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: