When Do I Get My Own Flashy-Thing Memory-Messer-Upper?

Inception, The Matrix, Total Recall, Minority Report, Men in Black, Dollhouse. In science fiction we seem to have a fascination with manipulating memories. Now scientists have figured out a way to delete traumatic memories. According to DVICE, Johns Hopkins researchers have removed scary memories in mice:

It’s generally thought that the amygdala is responsible for forming memories that are connected with emotional events, and the researchers were able to determine that there’s one particular protein in the nerve cells of the amygdala that helps to make that connection and establish the memory.

Right now, the process only works in mice and only within 48 hours of a scary event. While certainly using this technology to help those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a win-win, I suppose it could also be used in reverse to help use retain our memories longer and with greater clarity. Despite this upside, science fiction has long been examining the potential pitfalls of tinkering with our memories. A letter to the New York Times Consults column cites the main problem:

Only in situations where a person has been completely destroyed from an experience, where there is nothing positive to learn. But even then, we are denying reality, denying life. And for better or worse, our memories define who we are.

Are you missing Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse right about now? What’s your favorite science fiction treatment of memory manipulation?



  1. Great post, Lisa! I seem to remember an interesting episode of Boston Legal where they courted this idea. It’s a tricky one, because deleting a memory can have a knock-on effect. The subconscious comes into play. And where do you draw the line? Bad relationships (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)?

    I’d have to pick Total Recall as my favourite memory mind-f#@! movie. You can watch it from two points of view–is it all a dream or isn’t it–and make a good case for both. I also love the memory-messer-upper thingies from MIB. Slyly clever little movie, that.

  2. I kind of agree with the letter in the bottom of the post — our memories make us, regardless of how bad or traumatic they are. Probably not something we should go messing with.

    Like the original Manchurian Candidate. 😉

  3. Don’t forget Memento.
    That one was so hard to watch because it had a real-life grittiness to it. Anything that gives a sense that we’re not in control of our own mind is frightening. Would I want something like that in real life, even to get rid of a terribly traumatic event, I’m not sure I would.

    1. OK. I was up waaaay too early when I left that comment. In Memento, the memory loss isn’t from a tech gadget, which is the purpose of the post. But the rest of the comment stands!

  4. […] Come talk to me today at Contact-Infinite Futures about the latest news in memory manipulation and science fiction’s treatment of it. […]

  5. That is some amazing research. My head is spinning from all the medical and ethical considerations involved should the technology advance in any significant way. Thanks for the brain candy.

    I’m re-reading Anne McCaffrey’s RESTOREE and the memory manipulation element still intrigues. I do love me some MIB, too.

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