Thanks to Jeanne (and by default, Cole), I have been listening to WNYC’s Radiolab podcasts lately. So far, I’ve listened to the ones called “Choice,” “Emergence,” and “Memory and Forgetting.” You should really check out the podcasts. They’re about an hour long, so save it for the commute or something;) I’m not going to get into it completely but here’s a quick recap:
“Choice”–through the exploration of several interesting scientific experiments–explores how the brain makes decisions, almost always influenced by external factors. The conclusion? “The notion of a conscious will is an illusion.” I had some issues with this one, because I believed the experiments focused on solely sensory/empirically-based decisions, not ones in matters of relationships, politics or religion. But still an interesting one worth checking out.
“Emergence” explored the concept of spontaneous order, first focusing on an ant colony, of how complex order springs from a conglomeration of mindless, brainless insects, and then how different personalities of cities and local neighborhoods develop.
To me, the “Memory and Forgetting” podcast has proved the most interesting by far. They explore a series of memory experiments performed on rats. One of the scientists discovered that by introducing a drug at a specific moment when a memory is being created, that you can actually ERASE it. Even more intriguing is that AFTER the memory is being created, when the subject attempt to recall that memory, introduction of the drug at that specific moment of “memory creation” actually ERASES the memory pattern entirely.
One of my favorite films of all time is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film built on the fictional premise that there is a medical clinic where you could go to in order to have memories–likely painful, hurtful ones–completely erased. However, I had always dismissed the idea of actually erasing specific memories as complete science fiction.
What the podcast revealed is that this movie was released two years after this scientist published his findings, that it is actually possible to erase a specific memory after it has been created. At one point, one of the podcasters says “An act of remembering is an act of creation,” meaning, that there is no secret vault or brain RAM locked away inside of ourselves that hold a “true memory” of reality. Everytime we remember an event in the past, our brains are actually re-creating the memory, so that what we “remember” will never be completely accurate. And the specific drug inhibits this memory-creating process for that specific event, if the memory is tied to a specific impression or trigger. So the memory is essentially “erased,” even though that terminology is slightly inaccurate.
The podcast also explores planting false memories (scary stuff) and included examples from law school of how faulty eyewitnesses can be.
Jodie and I tried to plant a false memory in Oscar last night. Didn’t work.
The podcast concludes with a unique case of amnesia. Interesting story which, again, you can should check out when you’ve got the time…
Jeanne asked me if I would ever want to have painful memories erased, and what kind of person I think I would be if I were walking around with only happy memories. I’ve actually thought of this before because of the Eternal Sunshine movie, but I’ve always concluded that I would want all my memories intact, the lovely and the painful. Anything less would be a half-life.
Maybe that’s simple, maybe that’s naive, but eradicating any memory of suffering–in my opinion–would diminish the importance of joy. My pain and suffering–as minimal as it may be compared to others–in addition to the happy memories has made me into the person I am. Memories may be hard and painful but they belong to me.
Not to mention, there’s something within me that rebels against that concept because throughout history, God has always emphasized the art of remembering. He commanded altars of remembrance everywhere along the 40-year trail of wandering among the Israelites. His prophets lamented how Israel had forgotten where they came from and who they are. Christ–breaking bread and pouring out wine said–“Do this in remembrance of Me.” Christ, whose sole purpose in coming to earth was to redeem through suffering, some of His last words were essentially: “Remember…The good AND the bad.”
There’s a pattern of redemptive suffering in Christ’s life that I’m still trying to work out the implications for in my own life.
And I need my memory in order to do that.