I Believe in Science! Part 1

A Trip Through Improbable Scenarios in Popular Culture

Have you ever wished you could forget something? Not just in a push-it-to-the-back-of-your-mind kind of way, in the sense that you forget where you put your keys or what your login password is. I’m referring to true erasure from your brain. That humiliating memory of wetting your pants in the first grade? Gone forever. Did a string of adolescent cruelties warp your ability to connect with others? What if you could lift them from your psyche forever?

Michel Gondry’s 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” grapples with the ramifications of memories, how they shape who we are, and the consequences of their loss. For a story that involves a rogue doctor, unethical employees, a storefront medical business, and pseudo-science, you might not expect this to be a love story.

Jim Carrey (in what might be his finest moment as an actor) stars as Joel, who has gone through a crushing break-up with his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet). She decides to visit Lacuna, Inc., run by Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), to have her memories of Joel scraped from her mind, which prompts Joel to do the same. (when Joel wonders about brain damage; the Dr. reassures him, “Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you’ll miss.”)

Once we get to experience these memories, and Joel begins to lose them, we come to understand the consequences of such a decision.

Something prodded me to wonder if this kind of silliness could ever become reality, and much to my surprise: the feat has been achieved in mice.

The article assures us this is selective and safe, and while I have no reason to doubt this, Gondry’s unconventional film makes plain that things we assume to be safe and desirable do not always work out that way.

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Sam Jackson

Sam works as a Media Specialist at Promega Corporation. He enjoys riding his bike and having a good time.

2 thoughts on “I Believe in Science! Part 1

  1. Hi Sam,

    You make a great point. Sometimes we can’t always imagine the consequences of what we do…even if it seems like what we are doing absolutely has to be the right thing. Erasing really bad memories seems a reasonable thing to do, but is it? Do these memories actually have some value that we don’t understand? Or, since all neural networks are that–networks, what is the true effect of unweaving part of that network?

    In biology even things that seem really bad often turn out to be advantageous in certain circumstances. One thing that comes to mind is the mutation that causes sickle cell anemia, a horrible disease in our modern world. However, in some tropical climates where malaria is present a single copy of that mutation confers resistance to malaria.

    These are questions that we really need to be asking and spending some time on.

    Michele

  2. Sticking with the pop culture theme I’ll offer the Zen master’s tale from Charlie Wilson’s War.

    A Zen master observes the people from his village celebrating a young boy’s new pony.

    A villager turns to the Zen master to proclaim this to be a wonderful gift.

    The Zen master replies, “We shall see.”

    The boy fall from his pony to break his leg.

    Everyone curses the pony as a curse.
    Zen master: “We shall see.”

    War breaks out and the boy cannot be drafted due to his injury.

    Everyone now considers the pony to be a blessing.
    Zen master: “We shall see.”

    There are memories. There is no “good” or “bad”.

    Science should not be regarded as faith. That is to say, it is not something to “believe in” (nice headline though).

    Science has blessed us with so many opportunities to bring about profitable change!
    As our Zen master might say, “We shall see.”

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