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Eternal Sunshine of the Rational Mind

7 Post author: Cyan 07 April 2009 03:10PM

What if you could choose which memories and associations to retain and which to discard? Using that capability rationally (whatever that word means to you) would be a significant challenge -- and that challenge has just come one step closer to being a reality.

Dr. Fenton had already devised a clever way to teach animals strong memories for where things are located. He teaches them to move around a small chamber to avoid a mild electric shock to their feet. Once the animals learn, they do not forget. Placed back in the chamber a day later, even a month later, they quickly remember how to avoid the shock and do so.

But when injected — directly into their brain — with a drug called ZIP that interferes with PKMzeta, they are back to square one, almost immediately. “When we first saw this happen, I had grad students throwing their hands up in the air, yelling,” Dr. Fenton said. “Well, we needed a lot more than that” one study.

They now have it. Dr. Fenton’s lab repeated the experiment, in various ways...

Comments (18)

Comment author: Yvain 08 April 2009 04:54:35PM 6 points [-]

I'd write a list of my favorite books and then erase my memories of them, so I could read them again for the first time.

Comment author: MBlume 08 April 2009 05:29:19PM 4 points [-]

This is one use where I'd like to keep the original memories on a flash drive somewhere so I could retrieve them when I was done.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 April 2009 10:19:50PM 6 points [-]

I would erase nothing.

Which must mean I already did.

Comment author: knb 08 April 2009 04:39:03AM 3 points [-]

I resolve to not erase any memories. I want to never have to face the dilemma of wondering if something happened in my past that I had redacted. The only way to protect myself from this possible stressful situation is to believe I am not the kind of person who would ever tamper with my memories. (The "Golden Age" novels have a good depiction of the possible problems associated with discovering that you are the kind of person who has his/her memories redacted.)

Maybe I'm reaching here, but there also seems to be a parallel between the process of resolving to one-box in Newcomb's problem and that of resolving to not redact in an Eternal Sunshine scenario. It is the act of resolving, of making oneself the kind of person who one-boxes, or non-redacts, that generates the benefits, not taking the one box or actually refusing to redact memories.

Comment author: rufford 08 April 2009 06:48:40AM 1 point [-]

How would you know that you didn't both erase the memory of some event and erase the memory of erasing the memory of that event? The more you commit yourself to not tampering with your memories, the stronger the cognitive dissonance will be at having tampered with your memory.

Comment author: knb 08 April 2009 03:36:05PM *  1 point [-]

I wouldn't know. In a world with this technology no one can ever know that they don't have some or maybe a great many erased memories. The only defense against this uncertainty is a self-binding constraint placed voluntarily on myself.

Of course this is a limited defense, but short of a binding legal contract, its the best I can do.

Comment author: Cyan 08 April 2009 05:12:09AM *  1 point [-]

So you're saying that you cannot imagine having memories so traumatic that you would prefer to erase them from your head (and, say, give yourself a written record so that you aren't tormented by the missing information). I'm not talking about a painful breakup here -- consider the most inconvenient possible world, e.g., one in which you have memories of being tortured for months or years on end.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 08 April 2009 07:29:02AM 1 point [-]

Unless these memories cause PTSD, they're still valuable experience.

Comment author: grendelkhan 18 October 2013 06:24:41PM 0 points [-]

Even with memories that cause PTSD, it's not so much the forgetting that helps as the being able to reconsolidate the memories without them being hooked into trauma.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 18 October 2013 06:57:11PM 0 points [-]

From that article, it seems that knb's original resolution to not erase any memories is doomed to failure - since the brain already erases our memories and re-writes them using something like a lossy compression scheme each time we recall them.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 08 April 2009 09:41:08AM 0 points [-]

You already erase most of the memories of a normal uneventful day, and only retain lossy-compressed cues of what you do remember.

Comment author: knb 08 April 2009 03:27:48PM *  2 points [-]

Right, but the kind of memories people would redact are specifically things they can't forget. Presumably these are very important things, which might have practical implications on my life.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 07 April 2009 07:44:20PM 2 points [-]

I would discard all my memories of all the ads I've seen. Oh, and 4chan.

Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 08 April 2009 05:04:27PM 1 point [-]

What if you could update your priors, but remove the episodic content, including the emotional ramifications and risk of divulging what had happened?