Monday, 16 February 2009

We do not remember days; we remember moments

Memory. It never fails to amaze me. Deep within the recesses of our grey matter, amidst the firing synapses, there lies this vast cognitive ability that allows us to remember.

I find it incredible that I can be sitting at my desk and suddenly I’ll be transported to the time I cut my foot open on a crab shell at aged 8. Or I'll be watching rain fall from the grey sky and instantly, without force, I can feel the gust of heat and humidity as I stepped off the plane in Florida when I was nine. Memories are that powerful.

So I find myself wondering; why would anyone want to rid themselves of such power, such capacity? Astonishingly, there are some who do. Today the Daily Mail and The Guardian reported news of a memory-erasing pill, developed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. The idea is that it will expunge the sufferer of any painful memories thus allowing them a happy and fulfilling life.

Quite frankly, I’m astounded. Do the decades worth of research count for nothing? What about all those patients, people who lost their ability to remember? Take H.M for example. Henry Molaison was a 27 year old man who underwent brain surgery to correct epilepsy and developed amnesia. For over fifty years, until his death, he could not form new memories. He spent those five decades in an institution assisting scientists’ research on memory.

This case study doesn't bear thinking about. It's heartbreaking to know that one person can live such a life, so unfulfilled, simply because he cannot remember. I’m pretty certain that H.M would have given anything to lead a vastly different life than the one he lived. The chance to form new memories and remember old ones is a like a basic human right. No one should live without it.

And yet there are people willing to do so!

Memories are there for a reason. Yes, some are bad. But the bad ones are like mistakes; they help us grow. We learn from them. We become better people because of them. I don't understand why anyone would want to throw such potential away.


  1. Ohh great post...erasing memory pill???!! That is awful..reminds me of that movie Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (which I love),"Look at it out here, it's all falling apart. I'm erasing you and I'm happy! By morning, you'll be gone." Imagine erasing someone you once loved out of your life?! You can't...and that pill is just a bad BAD idea :(


  2. It's true...they've created a memory erasing pill! It's a terrible idea. Seriously, real life is becoming more and more like science fiction- this scares me!

  3. There are times in our lives that all of us wish to have the power or control to erase that which gives us pain; but without pain, experience how would be create. Excellent posting.

  4. Hi Lou

    What a wonderfully thought-provoking post. It fills me with horror. Memories are precious, even if they are painful. It's how we learn and they make us what we are.

  5. Uhm ... did you read the article? The pill would not "erase memory." It would erase the overwhelming emotional reaction to traumatic memories. If you met people who had been abused, assaulted, witnessed horrific things, etc., you may find some of them have night terrors and phobias -- phobias that make normal functioning difficult at best.

    The pill that story is about would be like a tranquilizer so people can remember the fact of some past event, but not become overwhelmed by the memory. It's a great idea.

  6. Yeah i read the article and this is my first reaction to it. I'm not an idiot. I know it promises not to erase memory but who knows whether or not that's true. In the name of research people have tried out many pills all with an individual promise and they haven't always delivered. Results can be unexpected. Who knows, one person could have success with the memory pill; for another person it could be a disaster. My point is that i would never take such a risk with something as important as memory.

  7. If I were to take such a pill, they would have to put cyanide in it as well. We can only live in the present moment, but some of those moments are well-lived thinking of other moments.


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