// Posted by Max on 02/28/2012 (11:53 PM)
After watching “Why We Fight” I was compelled to look into a different aspect of the lives of our soldiers: that of their re-entry into the civilian world. One of the greatest obstacles that faces them upon their return is the reliving of the traumatic events that they faced in their time abroad is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The most common weapon used against our soldiers (IEDs) lead to brain trauma, an injury that has recently been linked to PTSD. In my journey towards a deeper understanding of how we reimagine past experiences and ‘remember’ them I came across an enlightening and interesting article in Wired called “The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever,” an article which offers insightful background on how our memories are recalled and eventually speaks about the protein called PKMzeta which deals with the recall of memories within our synapses. Before you get to an understanding of the ‘forgetting pill’ the background that precedes the article’s discussion of PKMzeta offers a better understanding of memories. One of the central beliefs behind the treatment of traumatic injuries is that talking about painful memories can help you recover from them. This is the cornerstone that lead to the creation of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD), a method created by a firefighter Jefferey Mitch, after his experience with a particularly bad car wreck. The central idea behind this method is that “People who survive a painful event should express their feelings soon after so the memory isn’t “sealed over” and repressed, which could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.” This method uses trained facilitators, 30,000 of which are trained every year, who help those dealing with traumatic memories recover. After the events of 9/11, 2000 of these facilitators decended upon NYC to help those dealing with the events of the attacks.
However the method of CISD doesn’t take into account the way the mind works in the process of memory. The mistake is in the belief that our memories don’t change: the idea of the memory being a concrete form of information has been around since time of the ancient Greeks. However scientists have discovered that memories change in the act of remembering: we highlight details that seem more important and let go of those that don’t. This act is called memory reconsolidation and accounts for why in remembering events after they’ve happened our stories become tighter and narratives more coherent. The use of PKMzeta inhibitors has been successfully shown to be able to selectively able to delete aspects of a memory. This application does not only apply to those suffering from PTSD, because memory plays a central role in other ailments “driven by a broken set of memories” like chronic pain, OCD and drug addiction. With the outset of medical breakthroughs like PKMzeta inhibitors, we may be forced to rethink the commonly held beliefs surrounding human memories, perhaps one day be able to delete and update our memories like you move around files on a computer’s hardrive. This may represent another step towards the merging of man and machine.