As I was reading this article on ‘Neuro-Hackers’ Create, Delete Memories I kept thinking to myself What if we could erase the memory of God and Religion from Humanity? In the documentary they profile several different research programs in which scientists manipulate, suppress or even implant false memories in the human brain. As my friend R. Scott Bakker in his little theory-fiction recently surmised the notion of a mass mind-wipe of traumatic events might just lead to our eventual demise as a species: – ‘Crash Space’,
Reverse engineering brains is a prelude to engineering brains, plain and simple. Since we are our brains, and since we all want to be better than what we are, a great many of us celebrate the eventuality. … And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows?
What if – to push the limits of feasibility, our governments could erase our memories, manipulate, or transplant false ones? What if people became empty husks to be sliced and diced with erasure / replacement memories that would service some nefarious power unknown to oneself? What if we all became the Stepford Wives in situ: men, women, children nothing more than the play things of a globalized system, a totalized utopian capitalism where everyone was happy and everyone did their required job to the beat of some machinic temporality; a sort of We on steroids? None of this is news, science fiction writers wrote of these scenarios from the early pulp days to now. It’s just that it’s no longer fiction… recently Neuropath by R. Scott Bakker.
All this plays to our sense of Self: Do we have selves that pre-exist our bodies? Do we exist only as linguistic signs in a sea of textuallity, forged by the forces of knowledge and power: the networks of language and communication systems (ICT’s) as Foucault and others once suggested? Are we but a self-reflecting nothingness, a contentless void filled with data not our own, a dialectical pin-cushion that is nothing but the meat puppet of the brain’s survival mechanism? Just what is this thing we are?
And if we gave the power to experts to handle our lives, our identities, our sense of self and memory what then? Would we still be human? If our memories, identities, and lives were but the manipulated datastore of external forces that shaped us to goals (telos) not of our own choosing, how define what we are then? If we lose our sense of Self and Memory would we be something else: a tool, a machine, a servant?
Think of criminals or other elements of society that might be changed by such technologies? What if prisoners now on death row, or in long term imprisonment chose to be mind-wiped and have their identities change, new memories transplanted, revised histories, new lives that would offer them instead of long years behind bars another path to freedom? What would that entail in ethics? If one is mind-wiped and has one’s memories erased, new ones transplanted based on ethnic, social, and other familiar patterns of thought and behavior what would this entail? What a strange and disturbing thought…
And lastly if the world was erased of God, Religion, Transcendence, Spirituality, Ecstasy, Pain, Laughter, Tears: all those mental state of affairs, etc…. what kind of beings would we become? Empty husks to be shaped and manipulated? What then? And, even our notions of being Secular atheists like myself… what of that? What if we all became like those creatures in Scott’s stories empty vacuums with neuralfeed connections and implants they mimicked human behavior rather than actually feeling it? Losing affects, beliefs, intentional being… losing our mind, losing our humanity… would we all become passive and indifferent, impersonal machines in the hands of the State? Is this a utopia or a dystopian in the making? Need we even ask…
After reading the article I kept thinking how technology is always a two-edged sword that can be used for good or ill, to heal or to wound. In the wrong hands such a technology as neurohacking and reengineering brains, manipulating memory, self, and identity might lead to a far different outcome than what these scientist probably assume. A world far darker than we’ve ever imagined before… I could imagine a YA Dystopian fiction to envision it, too. What about you? Any thoughts, opinions? (I’m always amazed how many people read this blog but say nothing one way or the other. Is it me or is the planet brain dead? Have we forgotten how to speak? Even if one disagrees? People seem to flip around the web as if it were non-committal, as if this wasn’t a place to reason together, as if we were already mind-wipes and zombies…lost among our false memories. Hmm… maybe we are?)