The forgetting pill: would you take it?


If there was a pill you could take to wipe out a traumatic memory forever, would you take it?

If there was a pill you could take to remember something you’d completely forgotten but that was essential to your happiness, would you take it?


A recent research article in Wired   reports experiments on rats, that appear to have succeeded in wiping out a traumatic memory.

“For years scientists have been able to change the emotional tone of a memory by administering certain drugs just before asking people to recall the event in detail. New research suggests that they’ll be able to target and erase specific memories altogether.”

A report in the Sunday Times by Amy Turner this week reported on human trials being conducted into a commonly used beta blocker which also appears to delete distressing memories in sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Psychologist  Charles Fernyhough has pointed out that science is, as yet, a long way from being able to define the makeup and location of a specific memory, so a drug that can achieve this is probably decades away.

But would you take it?  An obvious application would be for the Armed Forces.  As the mother of an ex-soldier who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I am all too aware of the agonizing memories that a soldier must bear; I would certainly wish that such memories could be erased forever.

However, aside from the dramas of the battlefield, during the course of a normal life, which distressing memories, if any, would you choose to erase,  given that painful events can often lead to new learning and insights that are helpful, maybe even life changing?  What might you erase, along with the memory, that you might prefer to keep?  As the report in Wired points out:

It may be possible to zap rodent memories, but we can’t ask the rats how they feel afterwards. Maybe they feel terrible. Maybe they miss their fear. Maybe they miss their morphine. Or maybe all they know is that they miss something. They just can’t remember what.”

What if there was a pill you could take to remember something you’d completely forgotten but that was essential to your happiness?

This question is explored in my novel in progress, Honor’s Ghost when Doctor Honor Sinclair, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist takes part in clinical trials for a drug aimed at curing mild cases of depression and anxiety.  The effect of the drug is to induce a dream in which the dreamer remembers something about themselves that they have completely forgotten.

Would you take that drug?  Is there something you need to remember?

8 thoughts on “The forgetting pill: would you take it?

  1. Voula,
    What a fascinating subject and premise for a novel. Would I ever want to erase a traumatic memory?
    I certainly would not, partly because I would feel it’s unnatural, mainly because I am a great believer that every experience, no matter how traumatic, makes us into who we are. And whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
    A soldier, a fireman, a policeman, can and probably will at some point experience traumatic events. But they have chosen what they do, they should go in with their eyes open.
    On the other hand, I appreciate there are other ways of viewing this. If I was a victim of rape, would I want to “delete” the trauma from my memories? Most probably, yes. Would it make me less scared of men? More trusting again?
    I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to find out. But was I am certain of, is that there can be applications of this “drug” that could be morally justified. I think the problem would arise with misuse. Something about it feels wrong. Who and how could make the decision to play God?

    1. Thank you Elpi, for your thoughts, it is an intriguing question, I agree! What we forget, what we remember…. I do wish my son could forget some of his experiences…. What do you think about the idea of needing to remember something you’ve forgotten, so that you can be happy? Does that capture your interest too? Voula
      PS Kali Spera!

  2. Kalispera Voula!
    If you’ve been made to forget something that made you happy, then there is a conspiracy, a reason behind it. So yes, it certainly would be very interesting.
    But if you have simply forgotten? How can that be possible? Struggling to think of applications of it.
    I guess you son is a soldier, or similar….I have huge respect for people that endanger their own lives for their country or the wellbeing and safety of others. I hope he can find peace, without a drug. x

    1. Efkharisto!
      I guess I have in mind the things that a small child may forget… about their own goodness perhaps? Or unconscious decisions, made very young, when you don’t know enough about life.
      My son was a solider until last year. He is well, and happy out of the Army. I hope he can forget the worst memories, in time.

  3. Interesting indeed. I am sure there could be cases where such a drug would be beneficial; if a traumatic experience is limiting a persons ability to live a normal life (whatever normal is!) then perhaps. I tend to believe that in general, life experiences, good and bad, help form a person and supply some knowledge to help decision making in the future.

  4. Thanks Vanessa. I agree… except in cases of violence: war, rape, assault, everything else seems to be formative, often for the better…..

  5. I would want to take the pill to remember something I had forgotten first and then once I knew what was hiding in my shadow would be happy to wipe out my traumatic memories. When you have invented this pill im first in the queue.

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