TED Conversations

Gaurav Gupta

Director - Finance and Operations, Skillment Edu Private Limited


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Can we replace chosen memories, to have a richer life experience?

Elizabeth Loftus' TEDtalk on "The fiction of memory" shows how memory is unreliable and can be tinkered with for better or worse life experiences.

While ethical questions remains, I want to debate if it is at all possible to change memories and interpretations of known life events, for a better life experience. And what are the available methods to do that? What are the new possible methods to do that?

I recently saw a BBC documentary on Sex offenders and how the laws seem to indicate that they are nearly incurable, perhaps this research has application there. Or with the victims?

The research showed possibilities in alcoholism and this might apply to other undesirable behaviour.

Another issue if how reversible might this kind of treatment (if it were to evolve) be? How do you prevent it's use by marketers etc who want to influence people en masse.


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  • Sep 30 2013: I've often wondered if people with depression, post tramatic stress, addiction etc, would be relieved of their problems if they had amnesia. I think in many cases it would.
    It would be interesting to know what would be more benificial, removal of bad memories, or adding false good memories.
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      Sep 30 2013: Elizabeth Loftus in this TED talk showed an interesting result, by introducing a new memory of "getting sick after drinking vodka" and participants show an aversion to vodka.
      Similarly, a traumatic experience can may be, be replaced with a better interpretation of that event. Ofcourse, there are multiple implications: Life is richer with those experiences, a traumatic experience can lead to better detection and coping ability with other traumatic experiences?, or in some cases people convert trauma and tragedy into triumph and go on to help others. Will the world have an opportunity if we were to reduce the effect of trauma by introducing more benign experiences.
      • Sep 30 2013: In the case of alcohol abuse or post traumatic stress, I believe this is why we have mental support so that those who have gone through a devastating experience can be empowered to eventually come to reflect the experience as positive (as in an appreciation of what they are able to learn through the experience and how this positivity changes their perception of life still to be had). The difference is a motivation stemmed from within versus an outside forced intervention.
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          Sep 30 2013: Hi Tina, I was surprised that one of the findings in Elizabeth Loftus' studies was, it was psychotherapy which led to worsening of understanding of past issues. Not meaning to say that would be true in all the cases, but from the studies it seems sometimes things just go from bad to worse in therapy.
          Sorry for not knowing much more than that technically. But I read the paper issued by Loftus in which they introduced memories of "feeling sick after drinking vodka" as an experience that happened before the age of sixteen, and that had a positive impact.

          I was imagining a situation, where someone dealing with childhood trauma, is given memories to reinterpret the experience, (not as whose responsibility, but just as to experience, a neutral benign experience). Perhaps, decades of therapy could be saved and that person could move on. Again, there is a lot to discuss about the side effects, tinkering with the direction in which a persons life is headed, responsible use, and even before all that, long term effectiveness.
      • Sep 30 2013: I still imagine the approach prone to much abuse.

        I can see how erasing that particular traumatic experience from one's childhood can rescue decades of life wasted away, but what if the problem is chronic throughout the person's life? What if all the other problems in life stem from this attitude that that one experience imposed on this person in the first place? What if the person goes through another traumatic experience? Are we to alter the memory again? I am still critical as I do not see an intrinsic personal growth as one of the outcomes.

        If psychotherapy is worsening the situation, then perhaps we should re-examine our model for psychotherapy, that therapies do not become a model to externally enforce. A clinician-patient relationship inevitably puts the latter at a lower status. At the same time, perhaps it is the popular belief and the societal demeaning of psychotherapies that create the notion that "something is wrong with you", which stimulates resistance and puts pressure on the person in need. Perhaps this is why I use the term mental support, perhaps there are ways we can integrate into their lives as friends or mentors.

        I think that it may be hard for me understand some of these tough decisions some must have gone through. I embrace autonomy; I see advises as suggestions and possibilities but the ultimate decision lies within me.

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