Here is a bit from a recent Wired article. A far leap from the preliminary investigation
(NOVA has this some time ago: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/fenton-memory.html# )
The intention is to offer relief from those with PTSD and other traumatic memories - rather than have to struggle and suffer the affliction for the rest of their lives.
A philosophical question, "do your memories make you who you are?", is now being posed in neurology. The discovery of the inner working (and subsequent undoing) of memory has potential to empower human understanding of the self on a tangible level and, with it, escape and exploitation of the self.
If who we are is defined by our memories, are we less of a person (or the person we were) when we erase them?
Would you erase a bad memory? Or would you (perhaps begrudgingly) embrace it?
For myself, I have plenty of painful memories. Memories of hardship, loss, abuse, heartache, embarrassment, powerlessness - things undeserved and unacceptable. As an adult, I still process the cruelty I experienced in my childhood, undoing damage and making sense of the world I was helplessly brought up in.
I suppose it would be easy to simply "forget" any of it. Or all of it.
But, if given the choice, I do not think I would.
I think that my experiences as a victim have made me outspoken and compassionate. I am compelled to defend people. I think my experiences with violence have made me less likely to see aggression as a productive. My bad experiences were also countered by the influence of good people - I have a strong framework for the necessity of kindness.
Perhaps I romanticize being human a bit much, but these hardships made me think harder and reach further for solutions and relationships with people. Without them, perhaps, I would be apathetic or too content to relate to other people's suffering and seek improvement.
But I cannot say that pain works the same for anyone else.
I cannot say to my friends who suffer night terrors from their time in Iraq "Buck up, man! Tough it out! This will make you stronger!"
That would be a dick move. I wonder, if they had such awful memories erased, what else would they lose about themselves? And, given that these memories have taken away so much of their personality already, how much do they stand to regain?
Everyone will have and has had their share of painful memories filled with remorse, regret, anguish, heartbreak, abuse, loss, anger, etc. That itself is a fact of human nature. Everyone would also like to erase those hurtful memories, but I ask you to remember Pandora's box. As the story goes, the world was a "good" place that became filled with negativity once Pandora opened the box. We are plagued by the negative emotions as much as we are plagued by the positive emotions. While we wish to remove the pain, we cannot, for if we do, we remove the happiness as well.
Our memories do define us as people, as human beings, as individuals. What we have gone through shapes us, and having those memories to remind us of those experiences is a continuous reminder of what we have done and who we are because of it.
I remember things I have done that I despise myself for or things that I wish I could do again and again and draw from those for what to do in the future. I have the memories that I wish to expunge just like anyone else but if they were "erased" what moral compass would I draw from?
But I can see why some might want memories expunged, such as people who have gone through war times.This is a tough question, I will agree.
Well there have always been ways for someone to forget painful memories. You could smack yourself in the head repeatedly until your brain stops working properly. Of course self-inflicted amnesia doesn't have a 100% success rate but that's mostly because most people don't know in which part of the brain memories are actually stored.
In any case I wouldn't do this, but I have no argument for it being morally wrong as long as it's not forced on a person and I haven't seen anybody die peacefully yet much less in a horrific blood-bathe of a situation. If a horrific event does completely ruin someone's life because it can't be forgotten who has the gall to tell them they best not forget it?
If you are interested in this topic, you should watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. it deals with this. and personally i believe my memories make me who i am, thus it would be wrong for me to erase them. Others can make the decision for themselves, and themselves only.
It's not just the memories, it's what we learn from them. Semantic, emotional and episodic aren't the same thing. For example, a person can have traumatic amnesia and still suffer the emotional consequences of the trauma, sometimes expressed somatically. This is a known, even though it is poorly understood and therefore debated.
Likewise, you may never remember having smelled a particular thing, the time place and why. But the smell might be in a room now and give you the same emotions you had from the experience before, without ever knowing why. Maybe we might say "oh where on earth did I smell that before, i cannot place it" and there it is still impacting life, even though the episode is not remembered. When this is associated with a trauma, the smell is called a trigger, but when it's just something else, it's called a brain fart or tip of the tongue phenomena :)
Sometimes when people are treated for trauma, you see they don't always remember the events, but some therapists process the emotions instead. Understand the anxiety, pain, fear and all these little things that may have built up and up in the snowball that started with the trauma. Broken relationship skills, new fears because of broken relationships, and so on. Years later. Deleting that original memory doesn't fix anything. Processing what it means, hopefully does. And then maybe we can learn from it, and become more compassionate like our internet sibling patch.
So I would have to say - no. Even though I have memories I don't want, that still bug me, what hurts the most now is what those experiences did to the rest of my life and the person I became as I result. Had to heal the first wound (the traumatic experiences) but all the lessons are still there- the mistrust, pain and so on. Getting there though....maybe deleting the lessons will help. I think of it as malware. Would be nice if it could be replaced by working software :) workin on it.