Monday, July 05, 2004

What I remember

We tuned into CBC in the car on the way home this evening and were lucky to catch Next: "The Pills That Ate My Brain: Neuroceuticals and Freedom of Thought."

This is really exciting stuff, I thought. Enhancing the cognitive function of the brain. Enhancing memory. Erasing memory. Freedom of thought, defining thought in legal terms.

The irony is that, as much as I wanted to blog about some of the issues raised, I'm having trouble recalling most of the show. Only a general impression remains.

It's all about control, of course, and the fear that someone other than yourself may be accessing and controlling your memory, your thoughts, the stuff that makes you you.

Memory-enhancing drugs are already on the market. An aging baby boomer population creates an obvious demand for such a "medication." We've medicalized another natural process.

As with mood-altering drugs one might wonder whether they treat a "disease" or simply make you more "competitive."

We need to acknowledge that many "prescription" drugs are often used illegally and for recreational purposes, purposes other than those for which they've been medically and governmentally approved. That a drug can help Grampa remember the name of his childhood pet has vaster implications.

If a drug can access a memory, perhaps erase a memory, how long before the technology exists to modify one, or to insert a pure fiction? Time-release capsules, like a computer virus, to bend your perception of reality and control your actions.

Some of the dangers of neurotechnology.

Neuroceuticals: nutritional supplements for the brain.

Freedom of thought is a poorly understand constitutional right, but the technologies already exist to threaten it. The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE) in Davis, California, tries to provide legal theory and principles to guide courts, policy makers and civil liberty experts.

Brain fingerprinting is designed to determine whether an individual recognizes specific information related to an event or activity by measuring electrical brain wave responses to words, phrases, or pictures presented on a computer screen. [It] is considered a type of Guilty Knowledge Test, where the "guilty" party is expected to react strongly to the relevant details of the event or activity.

See also The Journal of Cognitive Liberties.

Additional links.

Coincidentally, we watched and enjoyed The Butterfly Effect the other night. Chilling and disturbing in ways I hadn't expected. The life-changing events at issue were indeed gruesome and difficult. And this is the only problem with the concept of the film — these events were not butterflies. We can certainly extrapolate to understand that even insignificant events might have profound effects, but on this count I really felt I was slammed in the face with a sledgehammer.

The question of how one accesses memory, and then travels in time to alter the facts constituting the memory, is never satisfactorily addressed (but then we never really expect movies to solve the problem of time travel).
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