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PBS series Nova, “memory hackers” episode on Feb. 10th 2016. Recent research continues to delve into the depths of the human brain. In a recent Nova episode, airing on PBS, researchers demonstrate current knowledge on how memories are created and forgotten and, with the use of certain drugs, erased. (via PBS/Nova)

 

Not exactly a wearable item, but could be someday...

 

PBS series Nova aired a much talked-about episode on Febuary 10th called “memory hackers.” The episode summarizes the most pivotal research which leads to our current understanding of how memory works. While many things about memory remain a mystery, researchers now know enough about memory to understand how memories are created, recalled, implanted and even potentially erased. The current findings and studies carried on with laboratory rats and other animals are startling and have left me a bit terrified of the future.

 

Researchers have known for a while that memories actually create biological changes within our brains as neurons create pathways which allow us to ‘store’ and re-live our experiences. However, it wasn't until fairly recently that scientists realized that each time we remember our memories they can be rewritten in a process called consolidation. The process is a lot like editing a Word document and pressing save each time you recall the memory.

 

This process of consolidation allows for new treatment which can erase patients’ fears by altering their memories. In a study done with patients terrified of spiders, they found that inducing their fear by getting them to confront a spider then giving them a drug for high-blood pressure sufferers which blocks fear and anxiety receptors actually eradicated their fear. The next day, the patients came back and had to pet a tarantula. The test subjects were able to pet the tarantula within a couple tries, and found that their fear of spiders was absolutely gone. When test subjects were asked to come back a year later, they found that the fear was still gone, leading researchers to believe that their memories were altered or erased. Technically it’s not erasing the actual memories per say, but it is definitely rewriting their memories and mental associations which allow them to entirely erase their fear.

 

However, the episode delved greater into science fiction as it demonstrated how a small group of researchers are actually implanting false memories into subject’s minds – like Inception. A recent study had a 70% success rate of implanting false memories into their subject’s minds to lead them to believe that they had committed a crime. Another study with genetically altered rats with light sensitive neurons found that they could induce memories at will, or at least memories that had recently been coloured green by algae within their neural DNA.

 

The research essentially showcases how unreliable our memories are and brings into question the judicial system which convicts based upon compromised witness accounts of crimes without hard evidence. It also leads us to question what the point of our memories are in first place. Our minds do not keep a database of cold hard facts, instead it highlights things which may be important to us and allows us to continually consolidate the ‘facts’ to re-define who we are. In essence, it seems that our memories are nothing more than the stories we tell ourselves. For fear and anxiety sufferers, this means that liberation is as simple as rewriting your memory of being afraid – with the help of a professional. The story/movie "Pay Check" is becoming a reality.

Anyone else see the show?

 

 

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