One of my favorite movies of all time is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Besides being a really well-made movie, I find the themes it explores fascinating.
Is it truly better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all? If you were given the opportunity to erase the painful memories of a romantic relationship, but in doing so would have to erase all memories of that relationship, would you take it? Would doing so make your life fuller, or emptier? Would you be destined to repeat the same “mistake”, because by having the memory erased you didn’t learn and grow from it? Are two people destined for each other, no matter how much they hurt each other?
Although fun to ponder over, answers to some of those questions were simply semantic, since it wasn’t really possible to erase a relationship from someone’s mind.
Until now. Kind of.
Newsweek ran an intriguing article a couple of months ago called, “To Pluck A Rooted Sorrow.” Motivated by easing the negative effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers are conducting experiments in this very arena as I type this. What they have discovered is while an actual memory is stored in one part of the brain, the feelings associated with that memory are stored in another. Scientists haven’t figured out a way to erase actual memories, but they have already been semi-successful in changing the feelings connected with those memories. While research so far has focused on utilizing drugs to alter the feelings, I wonder if it’ll only be a matter of time until those working in deep brain stimulation and other areas of neurotechnology (which I find fascinating, too) get together with these folks and figure out how to erase or suppress the memories themselves.
For fellow geeks, who also didn’t get completely lost in that last run-on sentence, feel free to read the Newsweek article in its entirety here.
For fellow movie lovers, click here to access the accompanying slide show called “Hollywood’s Memorable Amnesiacs”. But to make it more fun, see how many movies you can recall that feature the theme of “memory loss” first! (FYI, #3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 11 are all movies I love.)
And lastly…if you could erase painful memories, would you? What if you could just separate the emotion from the actual memory (what it seems they have been able to do)? Is there true joy without corresponding sorrow? How would the erasing of painful memories affect our creativity?