Scientists may be able to manipulate memory, erasing bad ones and reinforcing good ones
It can transform livesSanjiv Shankaran
Memory is double-edged. Popular culture for most part concentrates on its brighter side, creating an environment where tampering with it is sacrilegious. However, there’s an ugly side to memory which shows up in the form of psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research in manipulating memory, on this occasion by neuroscientists at MIT, is an important part of medical research. Progress in this area is no less important than finding a cure for Ebola Virus Disease. Millions, across all divides, lead miserable lives on account of experiences stored in their memory. Manipulating it is an effective way of transforming lives.
For sure, there is an ethical dimension to manipulating memory. A question that sometimes comes up is whether this is a case of trying to play god. It happens to be an issue that can never be resolved. What is undeniable is that memory lies at the heart of serious psychiatric disorder. The immediate priority should be to treat it in the most effective way. If manipulating memory is the answer, a humane society should not hesitate to use it. Metaphysical quests should not become an excuse for inaction.
There is nothing sacrosanct about memory. Altering it through some kind of intervention is an acceptable way to better one’s life. As in the case of some other interventions, ethical questions are bound to rise and they should as it serves as an inherent system of checks and balances to the direction of scientific research. But given the positives associated with intervention, there is no case to shy away from research in this area. Shibboleths often prolong suffering. Disregarding them is a step forward in improving the lot of mankind. If manipulating memory works, it should be pursued.
Our memories are us