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Turning Memories On/Off With the Flip of a Switch 86

cylonlover writes "Using electrical probes embedded into the brains of rats, scientists have managed to replicate the brain function associated with long-term behavior and found a way to literally turn memories on and off with the flip of a switch. The scientists hope their research will eventually lead to a neural prosthesis to help people suffering Alzheimer's disease, the effects of stroke or other brain injury to recover long-term memory capability."
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Turning Memories On/Off With the Flip of a Switch

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  • Any research on the subject of deactivating and then, at a later time, reactivating memories embedded in the subject should have been done on Manchurian Hamsters [], not rats...
    • I already graduated from the institution listed on the login page [] and therefore have no access to an active JSTOR account with which to read the article that you cited.
      • Hmm, the page worked just fine from my random residential Verizon IP. Anyway, it was of no serious importance, just a paper demonstrating that I am not, in fact, making up the existence of the "Manchurian hamster". A Manchurian candidate throwaway gag.
  • We all know it will be used by governments when they revoke ultra-secret clearance, companies when they want to keep R&D for themselves, dictatorships when they want to neutralize dissidents.

  • What has been seen, can now finally be unseen!
    • by Toam ( 1134401 )
      And you can stop losing the game.
      • by healyp ( 1260440 )
        I've lost the game on account of /. more times than I can count. I don't keep account records of course because that would involve losing the game.
  • MIB standard issue.
  • You can't easily prove the existence of criminal intent when the criminal doesn't even remember committing the crime.

    • Ah yes, the Alberto Gonzales Defense.

      • Ah yes, the Alberto Gonzales Defense.

        Just about when I was gonna say that tactic doesn't work, you preempt me with how it does . . .

    • Don't worry, they'll force a false confession anyway.
    • I thought they had some way of solving this problem in the Harry Potter books. Like, if you obliviate yourself, that increases the presumption of guilt for actions taken immediately preceding?

      Maybe they had a better procedure in one of the fanfics...?

  • In all seriousness (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sqrt(2) ( 786011 ) on Monday June 20, 2011 @08:27AM (#36498692) Journal

    I'd be interested to know how this could be applied to turning off traumatic or unpleasant memories, and the socio-psycholigical effects such widespread use would have. Aren't there memories we all have that we have thought it would be better to forget? Disregarding the use by governments for a second, let's contemplate how it could be used by an individual to shape their own consciousness. You could remove the images of your battle buddies being killed in combat, or your parents being killed in that car accident you survived. As a hack to short circuit the processing and digestion of unpleasant memories, this is an interesting (although perhaps disturbing and dangerous) technology, but it could be found that the negative effects could be mitigated with a combination of memory forgetting treatment and therapy.

    • by Toam ( 1134401 )
      Yeah, but if I deleted "The Hangover" from my memory there is a chance that I'd eventually watch it again only to be horrifically dissappointed again.
      • Wow, that sounds like the plot-line for a new uber-meta Michel Gondry indie film. People turn off their memories of watching the Hangover 2 (you're referring to the second one, right? they were both underwhelming), only to end up watching it again. Call it "Be kind. Switch off all memories of or related to the movie Hangover 2." It's gold.

    • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Monday June 20, 2011 @08:35AM (#36498782)

      The producers of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind called. They want their plot back.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The producers of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind called. They want their plot back.

        I was wondering how long it was going to take before this was brought up : ) Besides being a good movie; I wonder how this will all translate into "real-life" scenarios. For instance, just because a technology comes up, sometimes our own thoughts (no pun intended) are worse than what actually results from the technology --but, sometimes not--. I'm 50/50 on this, because I think sometimes our bad experiences shape us into stronger people, but sometimes in extreme circumstances (e.g. your entire family being

      • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

        My first thought was Johnny Mnemonic (information couriers that don't know what they're transporting). Then sleeper agents (took awhile to associate to the series "My Own Worst Enemy"). Then Men In Black and the neuralizer.

        I think I need to rewatch Eternal Sunshine....

      • And the hundreds of Sci-fi books that used this device decades before that movie as well...
    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      There was a drug on trial that did exactly this. I probably heard about it 5 years ago and I haven't heard anything since.

      The idea was that we strengthen our memories by repeating them in our mind's eye. The chemical bonds, that make memories, are strengthened the more they are used. The drug stopped these bonds becoming stronger.

      I have memories that haunt me. It could be OCD, and that would tie-in with the other mental health issues I have, but I refuse to have more 'tests'. If I could wipe these half-doze
    • In all seriousness, removing memories of battle will only lead to more battles. I'm sure there are cases where it could be used beneficially... but you know what they say, out of sight, out of mind. What about when it's just out of mind? Will this technology simply be used to ignore problems? Answer, it will overwhelmingly be used for evil.

    • If possible I think it would make for some very strange behaviour and outlook. An old traumatic memory is going to shape one's attitude and choices in myriad ways. The memory can be removed but all of the consequences that came about because of that memory are still present. For instance, one may have very pro law and order attitudes and even became a cop because a loved one was a victim. Take away that memory and context for the shape life took because of it is gone. And the more memories are adjusted

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        The problem is when there is a more immediate wipe. Policeman sees a poorly executed no-knock on flimsy evidence and is traumatized by the site of the 2 pre-schoolers police gunned down. Gets memory wiped and cheerfully participates in exactly the same sort of raid the next day...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Without the memory of his parents being gunned down at that movie theatre there would be no Batman. I for one am pro-Batman.

    • I was in a car accident a long time ago and can't imagine waking up with no knowledge of why I have all these scars. I think it would more traumatic to see the results of multiple surgeries, burns and cuts with no explanation than it would be to remember what little of the incident I do. Aside from that, I think a person is the complete sum of their experiences. As you take or add experiences, good or bad, you change the person. You could argue there are cases where that's a good thing but I'm still stu

    • We could act with no remorse, knowing we would have no regrets once we removed the bad stuff. The only thing limiting our actions might be fear of getting caught external punishement - which we could promptly erase all memory of.

      We could all be sociopaths. Brilliant!

      Maybe we should be turned off by ghastly things. Maybe we should abhor violence, once we've seen it close-up.

    • i don't know, from what i understand any memory you have is 'coloured' by other memories and past experiences. Simply turning off or erasing one memory would only change so much if all memories were generated on the fly, starting with the oldest ones. If memories are just stored as they are , 'coloured' and all, it would do nothing to change the perception you have of things in general. I don't know, if any expert could point me to some comprehensible reading on the matter i'd be much obliged.
  • How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot
    The world forgetting by the world forgot
    Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
    Each pray'r accepted and each wish resign'd?
  • Why is it that researchers are always saying that their research is for helping those with medical conditions. Even if this is true (and it probably is), that is NOT the only reason and to imply that it would not be used for other functions is a lie by omission.

    If this ever gets developed to the point where it could be used on people with brain damage or to remove trauma, it could also be used for memory wipes, selective memory cleanup, and other less pleasent actions.

    I am not saying that we should not deve

    • I am not saying that we should not develop it, Im saying that how can we have discussions around the proper use of technology if we wont admit to what it can actually be used to accomplish.

      That's ok, when the technology is perfected they will go ahead and make you forget you ever had such a silly objection in the first place. See, problem solved!

    • Or what about adding on accessories, with pre-recorded memories? If we know the structure of how a memory is stored, down the road we have external memory devices...
    • I am not saying that we should not develop it,

      It's all about funding. When you say "we", the underlying implication is that someone will pay for this research and development. The medical condition charities and drug company conglomerates have deep pockets and vast future potential earning. Also when people tighten their belts and make personal budget cuts, healthcare is often not an optional expense.

      NASA was one R&D driver that wasn't related to medical conditions. Whether or not it was worth the price, a lot of technology came out of all th

  • Reminds me of the three wishes story from "Planescape Torment".

    An elderly man was sitting alone on a dark path. He wasn't certain of which direction to go, and he'd forgotten both where he was traveling to and who he was. He'd sat down for a moment to rest his weary legs, and suddenly looked up to see an elderly woman before him. She grinned toothlessly and with a cackle, spoke: "Now your *third* wish. What will it be?"

    "Third wish?" The man was baffled. "How can it be a third wish if I haven't had a first a

  • The scientists hope their research will eventually lead to a neural prosthesis to help people suffering Alzheimer's disease, the effects of stroke or other brain injury to recover long-term memory capability.

    Yeah yeah, thats all well and good. How long before there is an app that one can use to un-see certain things that, well, should not have been seen...

  • by jamesh ( 87723 )

    This kind of reminded me of the episode of Red Dwarf where Holly had gone computer senile and the toaster reconfigured her to increase her intelligence at the expense of her operational lifetime. Intelligence != memory, obviously, but I wonder if there is any of the same effect here... not that it really matters - I bet there wouldn't be a person in the world diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease who still had some presence of mind who wouldn't trade quantity for quality

  • Just use a rat-protect tab.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"