A pill to forget

A pill to excise bad memories? Sounds like science fiction, but now researchers say they're close to something like this. But would it be a good idea?

Films like Men In Black, The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind have in recent decades tackled the issue of targeted memory loss. But such a scenario could soon be reality and not just science fiction fare.

Scientists at Amsterdam University claim to have developed a pill that could erase particular memories while leaving others intact. This drug will, they believe, help people overcome such ailments as post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, obsessions and eating problems. Memories are recreated slightly differently every time they are recalled and the drug would work by interfering incrementally with that process.

But this raises some important ethical questions. Are not memories, good and bad, what shape our personalities as humans? More pragmatic questions also arise. If you may choose to erase the death of a loved one, for instance, what happens when you see photographs of them?

As with any drug, there is the real possibility of black market abuse. Might a criminal erase the memory of a victim who could testify against him in court, for example?

Clearly, such pills could be genuinely beneficial for some: war veterans and victims of horrific crimes. But as a general rule, memory has served us well for thousands of years. Let's not forget that.

Published: February 21, 2012 04:00 AM