Inventing Eternal Sunshine

Interesting news: researchers have developed a pill that may make it possible to blunt memories of traumatic experiences, such as those associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The researchers, a group of psychiatrists based in the US and Canada, have postulated that PTSD occurs “because the brain goes haywire during and right after a strongly emotional event, pouring out stress hormones that help store these memories in a different way than normal ones are preserved.” These resrachers believe that taking a pill to diminish these chemicals soon after the traumatic event might prevent PTSD. A quick scan of the article does clarify that the pill will not, a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, cause amnesia or put a “hole” in someone’s memory.

There are some obvious benefits here, as well as some objections that are also not surprising: people who are dealing with all manner of traumatic experiences–whether abuse, war trauma, or a catastrophe such as Hurricane Katrina–might be able to ease some of their pain, and the article notes that with veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, doctors need better treatment for PTSD (no mention of the needs of civilians living in Iraq and Afghanistan, of course). As Leon Kass, Chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics notes, “painful memories serve a purpose and are part of the human experience.”

One of the reasons I find this story compelling is the theory of memory that informs the research. The AP writer notes, “Memories, painful or sweet, don’t form instantly after an event but congeal over time. Like slowly hardening cement, there is a window of opportunity when they are shapable.” I’ve got some other writing/research to do tonight, so I can’t work through this story in as much detail as I would like, but found it too intriguing not to mention on the blog (and hope that blogging it will help me to remember to return to the idea later).

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