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Science News Technology

Scientists Have Discovered How To 'Delete' Unwanted Memories ( 158

A new documentary from PBS reveals how cutting edge science enables us to 'edit' memories and create new ones from scratch. "For much of human history, memory has been seen as a tape recorder that faithfully registers information and replays it intact," say the film's makers. "But now, researchers are discovering that memory is far more malleable, always being written and rewritten, not just by us but by others. We are discovering the precise mechanisms that can explain and even control our memories."
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Scientists Have Discovered How To 'Delete' Unwanted Memories

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  • by dwywit ( 1109409 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:03AM (#51509467)

    Oh, and his niece Rachel.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My understanding is that when a person remembers something, the record of that memory is destroyed and then rewritten in the brain. However, there is at least one drug that can prevent the creation of memories in the brain. It's always seemed logical that, under the influence of such a drug, accessing a memory should also cause that memory to effectively be erased.

    • by adolf ( 21054 )

      I keep trying that, but it only seems to work on keeping new memories from being stored, and has nothing to do with erasing old ones.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Uh, no... did you watch the whole show? Has to do with old memories. The act of remembering a memory re-stores the memory. If you interrupt the re-storing process, the memory...dies.

        • That cannot be true. For example my neighbour had a stroke and cannot record new memories. He can't remember what I told him half an our ago. But when he remembers something from his past, that memory is not gone for good, so it cannot be erased like you say.
    • by doccus ( 2020662 )

      I would think the memory is erased via overwriting.. therefore accessing a memory woulfdn't cause it's erqasure. Were it not so we would be vegetables from birth. Lots of common anxiolytics can prevent the formation of new memories, leading one to suspect that GABA is integral towards the formation of memory. since it is also GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid) that is displaced by these drugs to (presumably) exert their calming action ...
      Of course this is what I learned 35 years ago so maybe they know a whole

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:23AM (#51509529)

    Time to invest in Ray-Ban.

    • by Barny ( 103770 )

      You mean luxottica?

      Ray Ban has been nothing but a brand name for quite a few years now. In fact, Luxottica owns damn near all sunglasses brands.

  • by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:32AM (#51509569)

    1: Does it require the subject's cooperation to erase the memories? 2: Can they be retrieved by some means later, if necessary?

    If the answer to these questions is "No." Consider the following scenarios:

    1. An accused criminal gets the key witnesses in the case wiped before the trial.

    2. Cops "forcefully interrogate" a suspect, and when the suspect turns out to be innocent, wipe the victim's memories of their treatment.

    And those are just Abuse 101.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As far as I can tell, the entire thing is just theory of what they want to do, not that they have the ability or understanding of how to do it.

      The article has about as much science as the Discovery channel.

      • "The article has about as much science as the Discovery channel"


        Enhance, delete, incept: Manipulating hippocampus-dependent memories : "whether science is able to one day “catch up” to science fiction remains to be seen"

        From: []

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ... 1. An accused criminal gets the key witnesses in the case wiped before the trial.

      A politician or CEO has his own memory of crooked deals, wiped.
      Rape victims or pedophile victims get their memories of their abuse and torture, wiped.

      Leaving aside the amount of technology required, there will be a large black market for this. It may create an industry of deleting every unpleasant memory, leaving only the memories of adulation, success and narcissism. Will that have long-term consequences? Memories were deleted in the movie Frozen (2013) without consequence. In ST: TOS, Kirk claims the

    • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @04:11AM (#51509733)

      More to the point, I'm wondering if there's any actual science here. A Torygraph news article referencing a PBS documentary doesn't exactly scream "science" to me. We're basically hearing it from a tertiary source.

      So does anyone have a link to the actual research and the primary source behind this?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        As far as creating memories False Memory has been studied heavily in the 1970's, and was noted as far back as Freud (and possibly earlier).

        The famous court case Ramona v. Isabella eventually vindicated Gary Romona, who's daughter, Holly Romona, still believes was raped due to an implanted memories involving therapist Marche Isabella, Dr. Richard Rose, chief of psychiatry at Western Medical Center in Anaheim, and the Anaheim hospital. Basically the therapists / medical staff were so zealous to get to the tr

    • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @08:57AM (#51510405) Homepage

      So I watched the documentary...

      1: Does it require the subject's cooperation to erase the memories?

      Yes. Fundamentally, when you recall a memory (including phobias), the act of recalling it leaves the memory in a chemically vulnerable state as it has to be "re-written" when you're done. It's not like computer storage where you can read the same data over and over without fear of tampering with the original content. In the brain, all memories being recalled get modified at some level.

      Basically, the phobia is recalled by the subject. He or she takes a pill that will block the re-writing of the memory process. After several sessions, the phobia is severally diminished if not outright eliminated. I would imagine this technique could condition the perfect soldier to not fear the battlefield. A true "disposable hero".

      2: Can they be retrieved by some means later, if necessary?

      I don't think so. Once the memory has been modified, that's it. I doubt there (but do not know) equivalent of shadow copies of pathways like a hard drive has a shadow copy of data per the filesystem.

      • It's not like computer storage where you can read the same data over and over without fear of tampering with the original content.

        I give you SDRAM, wherein the read operation does indeed damage the stored data, so that the memory controller has to immediately rewrite any row it reads (not to mention the constant general refreshes).

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      1. An accused criminal gets the key witnesses in the case wiped before the trial.

      More easy and likely for the cops to plant false memories. In fact I'd say trivially easy, and combined with the unwarranted faith people have in human memory as some kind of infallible recording device, very effective I'd say at getting the desired result.

      If you've been following the science of this topic, the idea that memories an somehow be destroyed is not particularly surprising; the only problem I have with is the term "wiped", which implies that memories are faithful recordings to begin with. Memory

    • I watched the PBS documentary mentioned in the article and yes, it could be done without cooperation. The method described in the documentary involves administering a certain drug and then getting the subject to recall the memory which you want to erase. You would do that by showing the person an object, picture or something which would cause them to remember the experience you want to erase. The hypothesis/explanation for the phenomenon is that, each time you recall a memory, it has to be rewritten to
  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:39AM (#51509599) Journal

    Please test it on goatse

  • Faithfully? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Knuckles ( 8964 ) <.gro.naitnad. .ta. .selkcunk.> on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:41AM (#51509617)

    "For much of human history, memory has been seen as a tape recorder that faithfully registers information and replays it intact,"

    Um, no. It has been well known that memory is unreliable.

    • Re:Faithfully? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by janimal ( 172428 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @04:30AM (#51509795)

      Mod this up. Any lawyer will have had this in their first class on witnesses. Memories are known to be very unreliable.

      Years ago, I taught myself hypnosis, based on reading a book about it. One thing that struck me in that book was the statement that on a subconscious level, our brain cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. It is only our consciousness (the linear reasoning part) that filters the fantasy bits and supplies appropriate metadata. As any beginner hyptnotist will learn, consciousness is off much more often than we realize.

      From my own experiments, erasing someones memory of something while they are under is one of the best working mechanisms that become available to the hypnotist. When I told folks to forget my name and planted a different name in its place, the information persisted even past the session. I had to show my ID to convince the person that their memory of my name has been manipulated.

      The ethical implications of this mechanism are obvious. In fact, I haven't been able to proceed in my "studies" of the phenomenon precisely because I wasn't able to deal with using the mechanism without the subject's knowledge.

      • Yeah, just deprive yourself of sleep for about 3 days and you will start to explore this fine line between fantasy and reality. I have actually experienced waking dreams in this state, where I am interacting with both my own imaginings as well as people in the real world at the same time.

      • When I'm nearly asleep, I have vivid recollections of past dreams to the point where I truly believe some things have happened in the past. Not only that, but often dreams build themselves on past dreams like a continuous universe.
        As soon as I'm awake I realize that it's all fake, and soon after that I forget all about it unless I really focus on it. It's fascinating, but I don't have much of a clue on how to explore it.

    • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @04:47AM (#51509845) Homepage

      It has been well known that memory is unreliable.

      Unless you're misremembering that.

    • Yes, but juries haven't been told that.

    • Indeed, like in this episode of Brain Games [].
  • Paywalled (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Got a message demanding that I either pay their subscription or allow them to load adds on my machine. Ironic considering the subject of the article... Even more disheartening is that pbs's own site flat out displays a white page with an add blocker enabled.

    In any case here is a functioning link

    • by Barny ( 103770 )

      Your computer already has adds. It even has multiple types. Your computer is perfectly happy doing both integer and floating point adds, as well you likely have a graphics subsystem that is VERY good at doing a lot of adds at the same time!

  • by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:50AM (#51509651) Homepage

    Does the method involve alcohol?

  • Whiskey. Isn't this it's primary purpose?
  • It's an old one (2007), but incredibly interesting and relevant to TFA... [] . The specifically cover a certain drug that they can give a person to prevent memories from forming as well as 'dulling' existing memories. It's fascinating to me, how so little we know about our own brain.
  • ...memory has been seen as a tape recorder that faithfully registers information and replays it intact,...

    My own experience would suggest otherwise.
    And there's plenty of evidence that most people – e.g., crime scene witnesses – do not remember things faithfully.

    Never the less, there are a few things I'd like to forget.

    • by tape recording they mean vhs left in the car on a sunny day...

      I'm more interested in implanting information in bulk not the same as convincing someone they committed a crime. Seriously, why would you convince someone they committed a crime? This would be exceedingly dangerous.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Those that RTFA may be put off from being given only a preview to the PBS documentary. Here's a link [] to NOVA's website where one can watch the entire episode.

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Monday February 15, 2016 @10:05AM (#51510697)

    Create new memories?

    I need a couple of years Harvard Medical and Law to go, thanks.

    • Hrmmm, does that mean we should implant law knowledge or a series of drunken sexual harassment encounters?

  • by maple_shaft ( 1046302 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @10:07AM (#51510713)
    As someone diagnosed with PTSD from a traumatic event, I have been to different types of therapies and some of them work to an extent. In particular EMDR therapy seeks to address the problem by having the patient recall the traumatic memory while things are done to help diffuse the autonomous reaction from the amygdala part of the brain. The Amygdala is a primitive part of the brain that controls flight or fight. It uses a proto type of memory where stimuli that occur before trauma or an incredibly stressful event are hard wired into the amygdala, think of it like ROM memory. When similar stimuli occur it triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline causing a panic or anxiety attack. This is why CBT therapy is so ineffective for treating PTSD and other anxiety disorders because the problem isn't cognitive in nature. It would be interesting if these methods could be used for other types of memory as well and finally work towards a more effective treatment for PTSD sufferers.
  • Welcome to Paradox had an excellent episode about removing memories: []

    Personally, I don't think it's a good thing because so much of who we are is founded in our memories: good and bad. For many people with a dissociative disorder has this happen anyway. eg: Now, how did I get here.

  • It's very old news. In the 1890s criminologist Count Franz von Liszt, (cousin of the composer), made a practice of staging disruptions at his lectures involving actors fighting, sometimes firing a gun. Even forewarned, students gave wildly differing accounts of events in summaries they wrote afterwards. Many experiments since have demonstrated the same results. What is stored in memory is the gist of events. Details are supplied on the fly during recall. We still place a high value on eye witness testimony
  • Very cool, just like in Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

  • This is nothing new - Texas has altered memories for decades! Global warming is a liberal conspiracy, fracking does not contribute to earth quakes, the United States was formed as a Christian Nation, evolution is a plot of the devil - just a few of the commonly re-edit "Texan Truths".
  • Just keep tazoring them when they answer what you do not want....
  • ...what I said in the subject line.

  • It's possible that, as a side effect, memories may be removed that are valuable. Suppose you've 'forgotten' many things ... exactly how can you verify that without trying to access all of them? How would you go about systematically checking them?

    I've never heard of any test or method that can detect lost information ... let alone the quantity, clarity, intensity involved. Clearly some parts of our educations fade naturally, possibly due to limited or no accesses. But we have experience and specific details

  • Holy smokes. This is bad. Memory gets a lot of attention because it's sexy and everyone has them and they are obviously incredibly clinically relevant (PTSD, alzheimers, etc.), but I think when anybody can do a FRACTION of what this is alluding to...we will have heard about it before PBS releases this truly groundbreaking and exciting news in a special called "Memory Hackers"...The Telegraph isn't doing itself any favors with this bullshit either.

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