Of Mice and Memories

So Mickey and Minnie Mouse can be manipulated, subverted, played with…made to remember things that never happened and, one imagines, made to forget things that did.

Hmmm…were they married? Have kids? Just lovers…covering for one another? Who knows what memories they have or what memories we might give them? Endless if you think about it…or want to.

And it does seem that folks are thinking about just this thing – no doubt you have seen the story over the weekend – and if not, here are a few links to peruse – but the bottom line is that scientists at RIKEN-MIT have shown that they can implant false memories in mice.

BBC, Digital Times, New York Times, Washington Post and some others.

It seems that mice brains while less complex than ours are similar in circuitry – so being called a mouse brain is no longer an insult – therefore this was the closest they could get without human experimentation.

They believe that the possibilities for good are endless – the curing of diseases and such, although it will take years to be realized.

Now here is the thing – if I asked you could we do this – that is, create false memories – manipulate, if you will, the brain – I would bet that all of you would have said yes – of course – it’s been done for ages.

Rehabilitation it was called in the USSR and similar in Mao’s China. The Inquisition used the auto-da-fé. Some say torture does the same….

Hollywood has been onto this subject forever – The Manchurian Candidate and Total Recall being just two examples, and you could argue One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – not to mention Homeland of Showtime fame.

And by the way, an early entry into this field was a science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick called We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, which was in fact the basis for both Total Recall movies and is worth a read.

All that being said, I was in the camp of so what – I assumed this for the longest time and was sort of surprised to see it being touted as new and far off…

The truth is, what intrigued me more was relating the story to our digital world where we leave a record of literally every movement, every thought, every action – where memory has become hardwired and where nuance is being pummeled by data files.

DNA evidence replaced eyewitness as a credible source in criminal trials (although it seems DNA testing can be as faulty as memory…), as it should when handled correctly – but do you really want to replace your hazy but sweet memory of your first kiss with the security camera saved file? I hope not.

And, I’d argue, nothing can replace the memories of survivors like their own tellings….

So alter the mice – let’s help cure disease – but let’s also take the opportunity to stop for a moment and reflect on what a memory is and isn’t, and how we’d like to remember and be remembered.


“Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.” Saul Bellow

And, in a world where the very concept of friends and friendship has been challenged (although the tide is turning), I’d be hanging onto those memories that, good and bad, funny and poignant, happy and sad, are what make us unique and special and significant in an ever-expanding cosmos….

Finally…one last thought…listen:

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” J.M. Barrie

May those roses always bloom!

What do you think?


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