Proof of Principle that Memories Can Be Erased

by elizabethlar on October 25, 2017 - 7:14pm


An article published the 19th of February 2017 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) titled Researchers Show “Proof of Principle” that Memories Can Be Erased described the results of researches regarding memories, after the researchers explained them at an annual meeting. Sheena Josselyn, a scientist of the physiology division at the University of Toronto in Canada focused her research on how memories are concealed in the brain. The neurons are responsible for such action and are the ones storing them inside the brain.  This discovery could possibly explain why, sometimes, memories are linked together, because in a short period of time, more than one neuron can successfully store a memory. If events do not occur in a close time period, the memories are not stored at the place in the brain. Regarding this notion of time, the director of the Center for Memory and Brain at Boston University, Howard Eichenbaum, studied the hippocampus of mice. More precisely, he studied the cells responsible for the notion of time. He mentioned that there were neurons with the capacity to “tell time” along with some cells related to “place” and that they construct memories according to space and time. With these information, they were able to target specific memories, meaning specific neurons. These neurons could be activated or deactivated, the latter resulting in the “erasing” of the memory. The results of the research did not show any methods that were suitable for humans, but they did prove that it could be possible in the future to erase traumatic memories, since memories can be targeted. Despite thinking their discoveries could help, the researches agreed that the idea raises many ethical questions.  

Personally, I find the topic of erasing memories to be interesting since it is truly controversial and because it could possibly help numerous people living with post-traumatic stress disorder, like mentioned in the article. This proof of principle raises many interesting ethical questions that touch a variety of spheres in social and natural sciences. Questions concerning the effects erasing memories could have on brains, the impacts it could have on people’s lives, if it is ethical to do so and if it would be dangerous are only a few of the many we should ask ourselves regarding this topic. The fact that there is as many social aspects as there are scientific aspects related to this topic is what makes it fascinating and thought-provoking, because it shows the weight this research has. We are our brains and without our memories, we wouldn’t exactly be who we are today, both researchers agreed with this point as well. Seeing the pros and cons concerning the idea helps realize it’s importance: by erasing memories, people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) could have better lives, but they wouldn’t have the same experience. To me, this is a very interesting issue because it brings us back to a question that is often asked with science… “We can, but should we?” 

The article written by Earl Lane from AAAS was, according to me, well written and relatively easy to comprehend. The information was written in a logic order, which made it easy to follow the results of the research. There were a few things that could have been added to the article though, according to me. I think it would’ve been interesting to add the actual method the researchers used in the article, or at least a short version of it, to give the readers an idea of how it truly works. It also would’ve been useful to have a small introduction about the two researchers to know a bit more about their complete research and what they are specialized in. On top of that, I think that the section about the ethical aspect of this should’ve been a little longer, to really show the impacts, but in general, the article was a great summary of the study made by Sheena Josselyn and Howard Eichenbaum. 

Here's the link to the article, if you want to read it as well:


Greetings elizabethlar. I appreciated reading your text, especially the line, "To me, this is a very interesting issue because it brings us back to a question that is often asked with science… “We can, but should we?”" You are right that this is a central question in science today and should be the forefront of all ethical considerations. As is the case with many issues related to studying the brain, at some point we cross ethical boundaries for the benefit of the broader picture of understanding the human condition. And I have to admit, I think that there are some memories (i.e. PTSD) that ought to be dealt with using drastic measures. Whether that involves the technique you wrote about is still up for debate.
By the way, you have an excellent writing style, not mention great control of your second language. Be careful choosing your register to fit the context, however. Your writing is perhaps a better fit for an academic scientific community.

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