Memory Zapping in the Future: Not So Easy

I’m tired, because I can’t sleep, and because I can’t take my sleep or anti-anxiety medications due to the demands of the job at current, and because I just about poisoned myself via tannin by too much tea, followed by what feels like near water poisoning from too much herbal tea, followed by eating too much because I wasn’t able to eat with too much water in my stomach all day….

So I’m kind of miserable and awake, but it’s a good time to get through my RSS backlog.

Anways, I ran across this article from Not Rocket Science, one of my favorite blogs:

Amensiacs show that emotions linger long after memories fade:

Feinstein worked with a group of five patients who had a rare condition called anterograde amnesia, the same one that afflicted the protagonist of Memento. All the patients had suffered severe brain damage to both halves of their hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s essential for long-term memory. As a result, they couldn’t form any lasting memories after the point when they sustained their injuries. For the rest of their lives, new facts and experiences are like whispers on a breeze, lingering for moments before vanishing again.

However, it seems that these patients can retain feelings of happiness or sadness long after they’ve forgotten the events that triggered these emotions. Feinstein asked the quintet to watch film clips that either portrayed tragic scenes of loss or death, or comedic scenes of humour and laughter.

There’s more at the link, and all of it interesting (and just long enough for most of us, which is a main feature I like about Not Rocket Science; it’s not news bites, but it’s not full-on articles either, though you do get links to full articles in case you want them).

But basically, the gist is that not only might it be the case that emotions and actual details of memories are stored in different places—no surprise when it comes to the brain, which is extremely complex—but that emotions may be harder to remove than the details; they can linger long after most, even all, detail is lost. So while it may be the case in the future (but not all that soon, everything considered; this is all still very much in the realm of futuristic science fiction) that we could selectively zap memory details, getting at the emotions may not be possible.

Of course, since I have PTSD, when it comes to the idea of memory zapping it usually leaves me thoughtful. They say that all memories should be considered precious, because they define who you are; but at the same time, one of the aspects of PTSD is that you don’t forget memories—details and emotions—that would naturally be forgotten, lost over time. And that some of these details might be what drive you into eventual insanity. (I really dislike it when people make sweeping statements like this, because what’s cherished to you is not what’s cherished to others, especially when they take it under circumstances very different from yours.)

But at the same time, if the details of PTSD memories could be zapped—and they themselves might be more difficult to eradicate at all than for more normal memories—the emotional memories would still be there.

And for PTSD, that’s no good. Emotional flashbacks are still flashbacks; sensory details of post-traumatic memories are just backdrop for the driving emotions of those times that make you crazy. Without those details, if you do remember a full flashback for some reason, and you unfortunately remember partial flashbacks in any case, you won’t remember the situations in which those feelings occurred, so you’re even less able to deal with the feelings—less able to eventually rationalize and incorporate these things. Or something. Whatever. In any case, this just means the PTSD will be as, and maybe in some cases even more, crippling when it “flares” up.

An effective futuristic PTSD brute-force solution, so to speak, would involve removing all vestiges of the memories involved—sensory details and emotional aspects. And whatever else the study of memory turns up.

Until then, there’s EMDR apparently, if your insurance would ever bother to pay for that, and drugs, and talk. At least the last two, and all three if you’re lucky.

For some reason, I feel this can’t be driven in enough—PTSD memories are not memories you grow on. I personally think that once you’re past the situations that involve them, they have no use afterward if they can’t be incorporated as normal memories or be otherwise neutralized. If anything, PTSD memories are surrounded by other, normal memories; they are an unpleasant addition, so it’s not like you’d be zapping all knowledge into Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind territory.

Sigh. There are a lot of times when it’s just the emotional edge of PTSD that grabs me. I don’t usually remember the little episodes that involve the senses as well. Sometimes, like during the previous holidays, it’s like being on fire for days on end, endless fear and dread that can fill your mind until there is almost nothing left.

… yeah, I know, rather depressing. My bartender is still on vacation. I hope he returns alive and stuff; I hate having to find a new one.