I was amazed not so long ago that a memory suppression pill, which in concept featured in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, has been a part of modern science for well over 50 years. Life imitating art. The article I read mentioned that “the memory suppression pill only works if it is taken within 24 hours of a severely traumatic event.” You don’t really have the memories erased, just the emotional impact of those memories.
There is no reason to believe the pill could not be used for circumstances that were “unpleasant” but not really traumatic – how many bad days have we all had where a pill might have helped us to forget the embarrassment?
Taken to an extreme, there could be a lot of seriously drugged up people wandering around. Very Brave New World. Self-inflicted dementia for the young and the young at heart.
In reality, there’s a huge difference between having a shitty day and being threatened by a lunatic with a shotgun. While the former can suck the life out of you slowly (death by a thousand cuts), the latter involves seeing your life flash before your eyes with time morphing into meaningless.
Medical experts believe that there is a case for therapeutic forgetting in the latter case and, on some days, I am inclined to agree with them, especially if it means it could prevent a lifetime of destructive behaviour arising from an inability to cope with the damaged emotions generated from the traumatic event.
Why give the multi-national drug companies a free kick along when there are far more “socially” acceptable ways of memory suppression - like binge drinking? Sadly, those forms of suppression only provide temporary relief.
Seriously though, are we not the sum of our experiences? To erase part of those experiences would be like making life become an unfinishable puzzle (with several pieces permanently missing). It just seems wrong to me.
Who would want to sleepwalk through their existence? (Actually, there are probably a large number of folk who would say, “I would”, to that question. And, let’s be honest, a serious part of my own particular history lesson is strewn with examples of me doing just that.) What would be the point in living if not to experience the full emotional experience? It is effectively signing up to a life without learning for surely we learn from the challenges we face?
I suppose people can deal with reality how they choose to deal with it but I think a therapist administering a therapeutic pill distorts that reality. It is hard to argue what comes first though - does an event create a bias within us that distorts our view of reality in the first place that it needs to be "fixed" or does the event create a new reality. I am in the latter camp.
I have seen that therapeutic forgetting concept in a wide range of artistic interpretation including an amazing play I saw a few years ago called “the Pillowman”. This particular play offered a more extreme choice of memory erasing - existence erasing. If you have experienced a traumatic event, would you take a pill to forget? If you knew ahead of time that you were going to face a series of traumatic events, would you willingly choose to cease to exist to avoid those events? Disconsolate darkness.
We rarely have the benefit of foresight, only the benefit of hindsight. Does the very process of being capable of reason make life unnecessarily complicated?
Anyway, here are the email links to an (old) Washington Post article on the issue: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43210-2004Oct18.html http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43210-2004Oct18_2.html