Monday, April 6, 2009


Among the consequences of narrow materialism are certain interventions by experimenters into the medical arts. Today the New York Times brings us a story of scientists able to erase memories selectively in mice and rats using a drug called Zip, suggesting that people’s traumatic memories, drug addictions, or anything else currently thought unpalatable may in the future be removed from the behavioral menu by zip-zapping their memories. I pity misbehaving school boys in the future; come to think of it, I already pity them; they’re already targets of Big Pharma. George Orwell’s imagination evidently failed to disclose the sophisticated means whereby Big Brother in the future will show how much he loves us. By coincidence—a meaningful coincidence, perhaps—just yesterday I finished reading an Agatha Christie novel quite unusual in its subject (Passenger to Frankfurt). It projects a crisis in the world (resurgence of anarchy and Nazism) dealt with by the deployment of a wonder-chemical, the invention of Project Benvo, which compels those who’re dosed to display benevolence for the rest of their lives. The unexpected consequences of modern discoveries are another sub-theme of this novel.

Now glancing at my own reaction I’m reminded of the story of the two old ladies in church listening with great approval as the fiery preacher in turn thunders against greedy merchants, seductively dressed women, and adultery. Each time he reaches a crescendo, the old ladies nod and say “Amen, Amen.” But when the preacher next turns to excoriate those who indulge in the consumption of snuff—then the two ladies look at each other. And they say: “Now he’s meddling!”

Consuming, as I do, seven different medications, I’m not exactly abstemious when it comes to pharmaceuticals and hence only, at best, passively resist such “interventions.” Indeed, without interventions, I probably would have said my farewells and adieus in 1995. But there’s a limit.

When it comes to mind and memory, we know too little. When it comes to medicating people to control behavior—done to minors mercilessly and their parents yielding to Big Brother (or Sister) like shy primitives—I draw the line. We know too little. And our governing model is not at all persuasive to me. What is that model? It is that pure chance, thus Bertrand Russell’s “accidental collocation of atoms” produced all living things including brains. There is neither meaning nor purpose in this great process and therefore intervention is permitted by definition if only you can get “the parents,” as it were—the public—to agree. Whoa! I for one would like to zap the Zip before it reaches adulthood and it becomes politically correct to get a memory tune-up especially, perhaps, after adulteries or divorces.

1 comment:

  1. Erasing memories... scary stuff. I'll have to look that article up and read it. And you should add the following film to your netflix queue: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

    That is a wonderful look at this very subject and I'll bet that there are many other fictional tales revolving around the same theme. It is at least in part the odd character of ones memories that gives this topic such power, that and the fact that we are, without a doubt, who we are because of the accumulated and layered events of our lives, recorded in memory...


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