The Memory Removing Pill
60 minutes has a report (A Pill to Forget?) (videos here) on a drug that can erase memories. Propranolol is a drug that (among other things) seems to erase link between an intense emotional event and the memory.
Psychiatrist hope to treat patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (i.e. victims of war, rape, or accidents). Usually if someone has experienced a traumatic event and then, years later, sees or hears something that reminds them of that experience, then the emotions from the trauma come back in full force. However, the drug shows promise that it can remove these painful memories.
It does its magic by blocking adrenaline from nerve cells. Adrenaline causes memories to really take root. We can see for ourselves: most long-lived memories are associated with some event that caused our body to produced lots of adrenaline. So, if the drug is taken shortly after a traumatic event, or even many years after the event, provided the victim is made to remember the thoughts and emotions of that time, then it breaks the link between the thoughts and the emotions. The memory fades away.
Opponents of the drug believe that our memories make us who we are. Erasing painful memories would rob us of the chance to become better people. They also fear the drug will be used recreationally, to erase minor unpleasant or embarrassing moments from our memory.
This strikes me as interesting and reminds me of a realization that a devotee recently shared with me:
The devotee is interested in remembering Krishna at the time of death. Everyone else is interested in remember as little as possible at the time of death.
This devotee doctor was telling me that death is super painful. Like 1000 scorpions biting you all at once. A dying person usually is given vast quantities of morphine to dull their brain so they feel and remember as little as possible. However, there comes a stage at the end of life where even morphine is no longer effective and the full pain takes effect.
However, the jaws of death are just like the jaws of a cat carrying her kitten to the devotee. The rat lives in terror of the fearsome cat jaw, but the kitten purrs contently as its mother carries it in the very same jaw.
The memory pill opponents do not know that we are not this body and mind. Our memories most certainly do not make us who we are. After all, we forget almost everything at the time of death. However, the subtle impressions remain. So, someone who has endured a life of a pig will subconsciously learn that maybe they should not engage in a gluttonous lifestyle when they become a human again.
Can this pill erase these subtle imprints? - I don't know.
One frightening thing however is that while the drug can erase bad memories it can also probably erase good ones. The Vedic culture makes use of so-called samskaras. Rituals at important life events that serve as imprints in people's memories. If the samskaras are Krishna conscious, then the person recalling these memories at the time of death can attain liberation (and avoid repeated birth in the animal kingdom) (BG 8.6 + BG 14.15).
Another perspective is that living with painful memories, day-after-day, is suffering we were destined to receive by our previous actions (bad karma). If we try to escape the suffering by taking a pill, it will just come back at us in some other way. No one can escape their karma (unless, of course, they practice devotional service and Krishna personally intervenes to give them a special personalized reduced package of karmic reaction that is best suited to bringing them back to Godhead).
So, this is yet another example of today's culture of ignorance and forgetfulness. Materialists want to forget as much as possible, while devotees want constant remembrance (smartavyah satatam vishnu).