Just read a very disturbing article about how scientists have laid the foundation to erase traumatic memories in the future. The question is, where do memories go when erased? So much evidence shows they continue to live on in the body and elsewhere at a level below our consciousness.Just because they are out of sight, are they also out of mind? Where will they come out next? http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-erasing-memories-20101122,0,342650.story. What do you think?

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  • Likewise, a thousand-fold!

    I've personally found that yes, I've (or my psyche has) benefited as a result of, or in moving through, great pains; at the same time, I think most here would agree that transformation can't be forced, and in a case such as the veteran with PTSD (an aside, but I find that acronym so troubling--we wouldn't label a man with a broken leg as someone with a "bone disorder," so why aren't psychic wounds acknowledged for what they are?) mentioned above, would rather he the option of erasure than suicide. Still, the cure, in this case, might be worse than the disease.

    And the more I think about this, the more I come to realize what should probably have been obvious from the beginning--that there are no easy answers, and certainly no clear ones, to the questions and challenges raised by new technologies such as this. To me such new abilities push us to greater responsibility, and greater embrace of those tensions between individual and community, suffering and grace. So perhaps in this there is something good? Providing, of course, we can meet that challenge.
  • Bonnie.

    This is a beautifully rich topic. Perhaps those of us who've worked or spent time around people diagnosed with Dementia or Alzheimer's could shed a little light, or would have something to contribute; this, at least, is one of the first things that comes up for me when I think about erased memory.

    My intuition is that those who underwent such therapy would suffer or experience an odd sense of loss or emptiness, as though a bit of their soul went with the lost or erased memory. (Or at least, this is what I've heard from those who've had an accident or other neurological damage that's resulted in them forgetting periods of their childhood, or those who've, say, forgotten the first language they spoke and can't access whatever encoded memories they had at a young age.) But who knows? Perhaps it would just live on in other unconscious processes.

    I found the article more encouraging than disturbing, though, given the emphasis of the interviewees on the need for caution and concern. I could just as easily have imagined a much less balanced piece.
    • Hi Siona. I appreciate your insightful comments and agree with you that the article itself with thoughtful and contemplative.

      For myself, I have very little experience with people who struggle with memory loss due to the conditions you mention and find myself wondering what they experience in place of the seeming gaps in their knowing and remembering.

      For all of us, in considering a drug that could erase memories, I suppose in the end many people would want the process to be selective and to only erase the memories that cause trauma or grief---but what would happen if we had to make a choice between erasing none of them or erasing some of the good ones along with the bad? In the end it makes me realize how much we label memories as good or bad depends on the context and the relationship to it.

      A few weeks ago I posted a comment on an article I read about workbooks given to children in Haiti to help them deal with the trauma of the earthquake. Researchers have found that integrating an incident (or memory of an incident) into a bigger story where it can begin to make sense eases it. I guess I would feel more comfortable thinking we could work with the negative memories before turning to an instant solution that does not integrate the idea of soul...
      • ... and find myself wondering what they experience in place of the seeming gaps in their knowing and remembering.

        And I find that to be such an evocative question! Perhaps other memories and the experience of the moment (be it an immediate enjoyment thereof or a frightening confusion around forgetting) flow in? I'm sure we all experience miniature versions of such experiences when we can't remember certain things, especially important ones, and I'm just as sure that we respond differently (I might feel sorrow, say, at no longer remembering the face of a great-grandmother; a less-nostalgic sister, or one who felt more fed by other family relationships, may not give it a passing thought).

        Personally, some of my worst memories are also those that ended as conduits for the greatest growth. I'm not sure I'd want to forget them; it would be like forgetting something essential and formative in me. And I have a feeling that for most--perhaps save those utterly incapacitated by their painful memories--would say something similar.

        Still, I'm sure the sorts of memories the scientists had in mind were those sort that surge uninvited, taking the person by surprise and barging into their current lives. If a memory becomes cancerous like that, perhaps it's appropriate to excise it? (I'm playing devil's advocate here, mostly, as my one sensibility is biased overwhelmingly toward wholeness.)

        Last but not least, I can't help but be reminded of Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Why that order, do you think? Memory is important to the soul.
        • Siona: Thanks for engaging on this topic. I have really enjoyed our exchange.

          Yes, our memories make us who we are in so many ways, whether they are good or bad. However, its true that most people would probably opt to eradicate traumatic memories that possess an individual and create devastating rupture (PTSD symptoms like inability to sleep, flashbacks, re-traumatization, re-experiencing of pain, etc.). This morning I read a written account of woman's journey with her husband who had PTSD from combat experience. She said he tried "everything" in hopes of being "normal" again but ultimately ended up committing suicide because nothing worked.

          On the other hand, I read an account of an Israel-American psychologist named on Time's 2010 list of most influential people of the year: Dr. Edna Foa. She uses a technique called "Prolonged Exposure" (PE) to help people focus on and confront their fears, essentially relearning activities that cause them distress due to PTSD. She claims an 80-85% success rate for remission. It seems the memories are being transformed (in lieu of being erased) in this case. Considering Carl Jung (and many others) idea of individuation and growth, I wonder how much our psyche would benefit from transformation as opposed to hitting the "delete" button. And I wonder how much damage hitting the "delete" button might inevitably cause. I like your thinking that those who forget may be experiencing more of the present environment or emotion. Perhaps one solution is making the traumatic memory more "porous" in order to let the experience of the present moment pour in and dilute it, thus easing and transforming it.
  • Very good point. The most critical brain functions like memory are organized as networks, so it seems impossible to erase the entire circuit linked to a particular traumatic memory without leaving a trace.
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