Editing Memory: Can We Simply Choose to Forget?

After seeing the Jim Carrey movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a few years ago, I did a radio piece extending the main idea of the movie’s plot: What if science came up with a way we could selectively excise memories we no longer want?

In the movie, Carrey is shocked to find that an ex-lover had their affair zapped from her mind after the breakup.  That got me to thinking:

My first impulse was to erase memories of overwhelming sadness, tragedies that lie beyond anyone’s power to control or comprehend: the Holocaust, September 11th, the terrible tsunamis that struck in December.

But deliberately forgetting such events, I finally decided, would be an act of cowardice, and would dishonor the victims of those disasters. Sometimes it’s our duty to remember, as we should on Memorial Day. If we all bear a little bit of history’s burden, perhaps the load will be lighter for everyone.

So I decided I would leave the big things intact,  and use the mind-wiping power on those irritations, hypocrisies, and absurdities that, while apparently trivial, take up valuable space on the mental hard drive for no good reason.

I decided  the first thing to go should  be memories of prices–what stuff used to cost ten and twenty years ago.

 What good is it to know that a good cup of coffee cost 40 cents in, say, 1988, or that a World Series ticket in 1977  cost less than a movie ticket today? Those days and those prices  are gone, baby, and they ain’t coming back. Remembering  them makes you wince, but does nothing positive for you now.

But of course the memory-snip procedures could go further. Remember the  pained, disgusted look on your  coach’s face after you struck out swinging on a ball over your head with the bases loaded and trailing 3-2 in the South Garland Pony League playoffs in 1968? Who needs it? You haven’t swung a bat in years. It’s not like you’re going to suit up again this spring.  Snip. Adios, Coach…uh….was it Smith?

Anyway, it’s a fascinating topic, and guess what? Scientists say “editing memory”  may be a reality sooner than we think. Check the story here . Here is my fulll radio piece on selective memory. And we close out with these lines from Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were”:

What’s too painful to remember,

We simply choose to forget. . .

But it’s the laughter we will remember,

Whenever we remember,

The way we were.


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