Erasing Memories: Is it possible?

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We all possess painful memories that we wish we could forget--the death of a relative or a pet, a car accident that left a friend paralyzed, a parents' divorce. In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the main characters, Joel and Clementine, experience painful memories too, the memories of their past relationship. Hurt and heartbroken, the characters each decide to have a procedure performed known as "targeted memory erasure," hoping to rid their minds of the memories they have of one another.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.jpg

While "target memory erasure" is a fictional procedure, methods for dampening the effects of painful memories do exist. One such method is the use of the drug propranolol after a traumatic event. Propranolol targets adrenaline and blocks it from affecting beta-adrenegic receptors, preventing memories from becoming solidified. While the drug is effective when it comes to dampening the effects of painful memories, it does not erase them altogether.

Even if the technology to erase memories was available, would it be ethical? Some argue that our memories are an important component of what makes us human. That being the case, would you undergo a procedure to have your painful memories erased? Comment below.

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I do have some terrible experience that I wish I could forget. But I don't think anything I went through before was so bad and I had to take the drug. Perhaps I will feel my life is incomplete if I erase part of my memories. I suffered from them, learned a lesson, and they made me grow up. I think every piece of our memory has it own function even though we cannot realize. Vampires in the TV show The Vampire Diaries are capable of erasing certain memories of people but it turns out that the person without part of his/her memories sills can notice there's something wrong and wants to know what have happened. I think even though we can erase memories, most of people will regret if they try.

Growing up I have experienced traumatizing times, but i am a strong believer in what doesnt kill you makes you stronger. Everything happens for a reason, and hard times only make you stronger. Although, I am sure there are people who have experienced much more traumatizing experiences than I have, therefore, would have a different opinion on this.
On the ethical aspect i do not believe it is ethical either. Dampering with people's memories is unethical because you are messing with God's plan, or should i say trying to play God. This is just my opinion, but I believe our experiences and memories help shape who we are.

I do think that taking a drug to "forget" bad memories is a poor idea in general. I think this because memories (bad and good) are part of who we are and how we became who we are. Everything that we have experienced as humans has affected us, and shaped our personalities and how we will approach future situations. However, I will not go as far as saying this would be unethical. Many people experience things so terrible that if they made the decision to forget these events, I would not stand in the way of allowing that. Perhaps in the case of assault or another dramatic experience, the victims life could be potentially ruined by this even. In a case such as that, the person could make their own decision and I would be the last person to stand in their way.

Are you really yourself if you do not have your memories. Good and bad create your personality and your personal narrative. To be able to take medication to erase memories or to even take medication to just relieve emotions is morally wrong in my mind. A debate came up in my neuroscience and ethics class last week that is very similar to all of this. The question was posed is it okay to be able to take a pill to relieve the grieving process from the death of a loved one? The medication would be able to break all need for sadness but you wouldn't hold onto any regrets. Would you allow yourself to take a pill. I am sure while you are grieving you would do anything not to feel bad. But is there something that is so vital for us to experience these strong emotions? Are we still ourselves when we manipulate our memories and/or emotions?

This is a question many people ask themselves, if they could erase bad memories from their past, would they? I believe that even though everyone suffers from traumatic experiences at some point in their life, without these memories, we would not be the people that we come to be. In order to be you, everyone needs experiences that they undergo, both good and bad, that shapes who they are. Although everyone would love to live a life without suffering, an absence of hardships in everyone's life would leave everyone empty and weak. It is because of these tough experiences that we grow to be stronger, more understanding, and knowledgable individuals.

According to the textbook people retrieve memories better when they are in the same physiological or psychological state as the memories were encoding and this is called “state-dependent learning”. Whenever I feel depressed, all the bad memories including the failures and humiliations I went through rise up to my mind making me even more depressed. I’d like to undergo a procedure to erase memories that deprive me of my self-esteem but when it comes to the ethical issue of the procedure it wouldn’t be this simple. Erasing one’s memory can be abused. For instance, a criminal can erase the only witness of the crime to conceal his or her criminal act. Even though to peoples, who went through traumatic and disturbing experiences, such as a victim of sexual assault the procedure seems to be useful, because of the potential abuse I think it would be better to try to treat the people with shocking memories to face and overcome the experiences rather than to erase them completely.

First off, kudos for using such a fantastic movie as an example!
It does seem to be the general consensus that "erasing" memories is just not human. It would take away the nurture in us and just leave the nature. Which would be bad for someone like me who comes from a family of alcoholics and smokers. My chances of becoming an alcoholic or a smoker are increased because of genetics. But the fact that I have had bad experiences with how these two things affect my family, makes me never want to do them. I guess its kind of a trade-off. We sometimes need to keep the bad memories in order to prevent us from making bad decisions in the future.

Also from a political standpoint, how would you regulate this stuff? The Government would obviously want to intervene and set up regulations and whatnot. Its just something humans shouldn't be allowed to toy with.

It seems that even losing memories that seem to us to be trivial, and not vital in our overall personality or day-to-day life, but I think that all experiences result in our cognitive, emotional, and psychological development. Without even a few of our memories, we would be very different people. Experiences in any part of our lives bleed over into other parts of our lives. To significantly alter one's self solely for the purpose of losing a negative or painful memory seems to be a counter-productive notion.

This is a very interesting idea. I think that the problem with erasing memories is that if we erase our memories we lose part of who we are. However I truly do understand that there are some memories that we don't want to remember. I also know that sometimes the person who we become because of our memories is the opposite of the person that we want to be. I can see why sometimes this may be a good idea, but I don't think it is something practical that we can do. Memories don't just involve us and to expect that everyone is going to play along with the fact that the event never took place is just ridiculous. I can see how this might be something we want and something we dont want, but I don't think that it will ever be more than a hypothetical question because of the impracticality of the whole idea.

I do not think I would want to erase painful memories. Life experiences shape your values and personality. Although I do have some bad experiences in my past, I have learned from them. Erasing the painful memories would only shield a person from pain and hurt, it would not teach them how to grow and become a stronger person. Our memories whether good or bad, make us who we are and I would keep all of mine.

Whether the memory is positive or negative; it has an impact on your life, and has ultimately shaped you into the individual you are today. By diminishing the painful experiences you have underwent, you are almost deleting a part of you.
Although I would never undergo a procedure such as this one, I can maybe understand why some people would consider. Say they have experienced some kind of detrimental assault that prevents them from living their everyday life. Deleting the memory may seem like a good idea at the spur-of-the-moment, but in the long run I still believe that therapy would be more effective for someone in this type of position.

I think it's safe to say that most people have, or will have, experienced something they want to forget. However, I don't think it's right to try and erase that memory forever. That event helped you become who you are today. Although it seems bad, I feel like you should keep that memory intact because it seems as though you can learn from it.

I think that this is a really interesting post. The argument of whether someone should or should not be able to erase memories comes down to one's morals and ethics. Personally, i believe that these memories, painful or happy, make us who we are as a person. They shape the way we act and talk. This is not to say that there aren't certain instances that may fall into the category of "an exception" - whether that be rape, torture,etc. But for the most part, i believe that this would be a good drug to have, if used sparsely .

70 percent of adults in the US have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lifetime. Drugs like Propranolol have been introduced to dampen or erase traumatic memories in an effort to restore life. But by doing this, who really would you be? Taking these drugs will alter the future and prevent learning from the experience. Researchers believe that when Propranolol is administered to patients with horrible traumas such as PTSD or rape, memory erasing could be a wonderful tool in improving people's lives. But the bottom line question is if this is a moral and healthy way to help people cope with their problems? "We cannot change our memories, but we can change their meaning and the power they have over us" - David Seamands

I don't think there is anyone who has lived that hasn't gone through some event that left them hurt, heartbroken, mad, sad, etc. However there are many people that argue whether or not they would want to forget it or not. Therefore i think this is a great point. I personally am on the side that would not want to erase my memories. Even though I have gone through hardships and lost several people to death I believe that it makes me stronger facing these events and forgetting them would be forgetting a part of myself. As far as it being ethical I think it would be case by case. There are some things that people may be better off forgetting all together such as those who were in war and come back with terrible memories that effect their everyday life. However I do not think that it is ethical to go and get any memory erased just because it hurt you a little bit or made you feel something other then happiness.

We all have memories we wish we could forget. But I also believe these memories help shape us into the person we are today. I do think the procedure to erase memories is ethical, however, only in a case where it actually hurts a persons way of living. A good example of this is in soldiers, who have seen many terrible things, and often times a loud sound can trigger these memories and create a violent or harmful response for these soldiers.

It is a very cool idea, and could definitely help some people immensely. Personally though, I would not want to do that to myself. No matter how bad a memory can be, you learn something from that situation and become better off for it. Also, I feel like there would be a hole there that should be filled, and I'm sure I would feel empty. But I guess I have not gone through something that traumatic that I would even consider it, so it is hard to say. A very interesting topic though.

Personally I would not. Life is not an easy process and both the mistakes and difficulties that each of us have gone through, throughout our lives make us who we are today. However, it would be interesting to see what we would be like if certain traumatic events would not have happened.

Personally, I would never want to forget parts of my life, no matter how traumatizing they were or how awful it had been to go through. I think it is important to be able to look back on life and be proud of what you have went through and understand how hard it can be to do so, and appreciate others who are going through difficult times and are still functioning. I think if people were to erase parts of their memories every time something traumatic happened, they would be incredibly insensitive to others. I think that a sense of understanding would be lost.

Anything involving ethics is a tricky subject. Is it right or wrong to do something? In any case, I understand that there are difficult things in a person's life that they might not want to remember, but for every single life experience, it shapes us in a way for better or worse. Experiencing pain, being reminded of it, overcoming it to live a normal life once again, or having to cope with a new mental blockage, it all influences who we are today. While in some cases, it may have been better for someone to forget the painful memories, in most cases of the average individual, it seems everyone has had a sad or painful memory, and I do believe it is a part of life, it is a part of who we are, and blocking it is taking away part of us, of our lives.

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