Michel Gondry’s seminal Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind posited this theory about erasing memories: and if true, it means we can soon wipe his slightly less seminal The Science of Sleep from our minds for good.
Actually, the mercurial French film maker has nothing to do with this; rather, researchers at Johns Hopkins University believe that proteins can be removed from the brain’s fear center to permanently erase memories. Richard L. Huganir, professor and chair of neuroscience in the Hopkins School of Medicine, said this “raises the possibility of manipulating those mechanisms with drugs to enhance behavioral therapy for such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder.”
But before we get carried away, there are those involved in mental health who harbor serious doubts. Kate Farinholt, executive director of the mental health support and information group NAMI Maryland, ventured forth the following: “Erasing a memory and then everything bad built on that is an amazing idea, and I can see all sorts of potential,” she told the Baltimore Sun. “But completely deleting a memory, assuming it’s one memory, is a little scary. How do you remove a memory without removing a whole part of someone’s life, and is it best to do that, considering that people grow and learn from their experiences.”
Returning to Huganir (whose report was recently published by Science Express), he’s also of the belief that, ultimately, these advances may one day be used to treat pain or drug addiction.
But one wonders where the line is drawn between erasing memories or being thought of as suffering from dementia. Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University in Atlanta, concludes that, “it’s a troublesome idea to begin to be able to manipulate that, even if for the best of motives.”