Since you may have caught my recent podcast UNLearning: the New Skill of the Future, I thought you’d get a kick out of this recent article in News@Nature.com reporting that scientists have successfully used a drug on mice that "...can clear away one fearful memory while leaving another intact. A single, specific memory has been wiped from the brains of rats, leaving other recollections intact."
One possible (and positive) use for humans would be to eliminate particularly disruptive and fearful memories, such as those that cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This research is also helping us to understand how various parts of the brain work, along with their association to specific memory, thinking, actions, and capabilities. This research can also help in our quest to improve our overall learning capabilities.
And for a more irreverent approach to this news item, you might want check out Episode 55 of “Cranky Geeks” with John Dvorak. If you can make it through the first minute or so, you’ll see that they make some good points and references to movies and stories about the dangerous side of memory erasing.
As is often the case with science fiction and other fictional stories, the recent movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may not be too far off from reality. As is usually the case, new capabilities can be used for wonderfully positive purposes as well as equally frightening and scary ends. However, let’s remind ourselves that WE make the decisions, not the technology or the ideas. We can be both the problem and the solution. Not sure I’d want it any other way.
For now though, I prefer to stick to more unaided means of obtaining the critical skill of UNLearning now and in the future. On the other hand, I am also convinced that some, perhaps the majority, of the most significant improvements we are going to see in our abilities to learn, unlearn, and relearn over the next 25+ years, will be from neuroscience and other scientific approaches to cognition, learning, and performance.
Can we really be that far from instantly acquiring skills such as those shown in the movie The Matrix where capabilities, such as martial arts or flying a helicopter, can be downloaded into your brain and body? (speaking of which, if anyone has a link or file of the scene where Trinity learns to fly the helicopter on the roof, can you send it to me? It would be handy to have for such topics).
I’m fond of the line, “Careful what you wish for; you just might get it”, because I think we are getting what we wished for more and more every day! So the key question for us to answer remains, “What will we do with these enablers (be they technical, chemical or cognitive) when they arrive?” and how will we apply them in ways that produce very positive effects and outcomes for our learning and performance? Life is for learning. Let’s live and learn to the max!