Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Monday, August 02, 2004

Remember to Forget

Memory reconsolidation - the idea that memories can be altered when retrieved, and are stored with the alterations - is turning into a big issue, with implications for brain chemistry, cognitive modeling, and perhaps for treatment of PTSD. The Scientist has an interesting article on the debate and the current state of research, "When Remembering Might Mean Forgetting". This bit at the end intrigued me:


People with posttraumatic stress disorder persistently reexperience a trauma, avoid stimuli associated with it, and feel numb. As PTSD caseloads have risen because of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, researchers have grappled with how best to treat the disorder.
Michael Davis, a psychiatry professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, sounds a cautionary note, however. In experimental situations, he asserts, propranolol generally blocks hippocampus-based memories but not fear memories that reside in the amygdala. So Davis offers a hypothetical scenario of what might happen to raped women treated with [propanolol]. "When they see a man, they actually may be very fearful, but they don't know why because they can't remember they were raped," he says. "And clinically that would be very bad, because it would make that memory inaccessible for psychotherapy."

I find this troubling from the point of view of psychological/chemical warfare. It might be possible to subdue a population traumatically, then dose them to make them forget why they are afraid of you, making it difficult for them to organize resistance. Of course, you'd have to have a lot of control over information, since people might be able to organize and act based on events they don't remember, but do believe actually happened if they saw convincing enough evidence. Knowledge of being deprived of the memory of the stressful event might even make them even more offended.


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