This fascinating Wired article explores new research into memory, where scientists can incredibly selectively erase memories in rats. This discovery, as well as related human trials, are centered around the realization that our memories are less static than we tend to assume. Each time we reflect on a memory, we are doing much more than a read-only process. We actually overwrite the memory, re-creating it.
In the rat experiments, a chemical is injected into the brain that prevents the rats from being able to re-form that memory. So when they access it and go to over-write it, the write fails, and the memory is wiped out.
This is the point where it’s easy to go down the path of “is it good to erase traumatic memories?”- which is a fascinating moral question all to it’s own. But what I’m more interested in is how we can use this in our everyday lives to makes ourselves happier. The study mentions experiments on sufferers of PTSD where they had them recall traumatic memories while under the influence of ecstasy. That way, when they re-wrote the memory of the traumatic incident, their positive state of mind would infuse itself into that memory, creating drastic positive results.
Taking ecstasy isn’t a whole lot less controversial than erasing memories, though, so lets take another step back into non-chemical related experiments. I have often found that dwelling on problems makes them seem worse, and thinking about them out in sunlight on a nice walk makes them better. And trying to infuse a sense of “what’s the positive side” of an experience or situation often helps me through rough patches. To me, this article is about empowerment, and our control over our own memories. If we know that we can re-write memories just by thinking about them over and over with a new “spin”, why not use it to our advantage?
For now, this knowledge will go into my toolbox of self-improvement and experimentation- not to erase memories, but to shape the way I recall them into the positive experience that I want my life to be.