Week 7: Memory & Consciousness - by Adam Parker

Memory is a curious subject, mainly because we don’t know enough about it. The human brain is extremely complicated and we might never understand its full potential. Talking about memory always reminds me of one of my favorite movies - Total Recall.

Total Recall - Trailer

This 1990 film is based on the story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick (whose other stories were adapted into movies such as Blade Runner, Imposter, Minority Report, Paycheck, and A Scanner Darkly). Total Recall toys with the idea of memory implants and memory removals. In the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the main character, must decides to buy a “vacation memory” from a company called Rekall. This company implants fake memories into your brain to fool you into thinking the events actually occurred.

Now I don’t want to ruin the movie for those who haven’t seen it so I won’t elaborate, but definitely put it on your list. The reason I bring up this movie is because of the hypotheticals that arise from the idea of memory implants. Think about it: as long as you have the memory of an event (and you don’t remember getting the implant) does it really matter whether the event actually occurred? To put it in simpler terms, would it be necessary to spend a couple thousand on that Hawaiian vacation when you could have the vacation implanted in your head for 1/100 the cost? This is a hard question to think about because it is difficult to imagine messing with our brains like that.

If you’ve seen the movie The Island, which you should have, memory implants also take place. In the scene which we viewed in class that one day, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson end up in a humongous room deticated to placing memories in the clones’ minds. This procedure gives the clones an entirely fake past, but a past nonetheless. The clones obviously did not have these experiences, but they can’t tell the difference. And neither would we.

If we dig further into this possible world of memory implants, we also come across the idea of memory alterations and memory removal. Now I know experiences make us who we are and we all learn from the past and so on, but what if science had the power to erase a horrible event from someone’s life? If a 12 year old girl was raped, and we had the medical ability to erase that memory from her mind, should we do it? This terrible event could scar her for life and change her for the worse. On the other hand, removing the event entirely could change her back to “normal”. She could be the person she was supposed to be.

Anyway, we probably don’t have to worry about all these questions because it will be a while until we figure out how to mess with our brains like this. And even if we did figure it out, there would be way too many problems and ethical questions to make it legal. For instance, if you did buy that Hawaiian vacation and legitimitely thought you bought the plane tickets and the whole shindig, what would happen when you looked at you bank statement and the tickets were never purchased? Your head would probably explode from the inconsistencies. Well, until science catches up with our imagination, I guess we’ll have to leave it to the cinema to portray these wild ideas.

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