It was fifth grade. I was Templeton in the community children’s theater production of Charlotte’s Web, and it was my stage debut.
On opening night, I stood behind the curtain in a gray sweatsuit quivering in anticipation, a rat’s tail made of electrical tape safety-pinned to the back of my pants. But the exact moment I stepped onstage, the dumb seventh grader playing Wilbur stepped on my tail, causing my sweatpants to slide down to my knees.
I froze in terror as the entire audience looked upon my newly-exposed behind.
This memory has plagued me for more than 10 years, and that’s ignoring how it brought my acting career to a shuddering halt. But thanks to modern science, I could permanently leave my Templeton woes behind.
That’s right—scientists are currently developing memory-erasing drugs.This medication could be incredibly useful for psychological disorders far more serious than lingering embarrassment, like post-traumatic stress disorder. But even futuristic pharmaceuticals attract some haters. Many question the ethics behind these drugs, but the benefits vastly outweigh the ethical risks. Naysayers argue that erasing memories would threaten personal identity and challenge everything that makes us human, since our memories—good and bad—shape our personalities. If our most atrocious memories do contribute to our personalities, we aren’t much better for it. Bad experiences haunt us, give us nightmares and irrational fears, and make us unwilling to try new things for fear of failure. In extreme cases like PTSD, memories even interfere with peoples’ ability to lead normal lives. A society of happy, well-to-do folks with one or two missing memories looks much more appealing than one of disillusioned, bitter old alcoholics.
In one study at the University of Montreal, scientists showed students a gruesome video of a girl’s hand caught in a saw.They found that students given the drug Metyrapone had more difficulty remembering the grisly images later on, and were presumably much happier for it.
Students suffering from nauseating flashbacks, however, were not the intended audience. “This drug is usually used to treat Cushing’s disease, characterized by high levels of cortisol,” says Syracuse University psychology professor Tibor Palfai. “It makes sense that reduced cortisol in subjects under stress should protect hippocampal cells, involved in memory.”
The concept of erasing memories is hardly new. Timeless methods for numbing pain include drowning it in booze, or simply blocking it out—which can be moderately successful with enough perseverance—but some bad memories cling like barnacles. These drugs might be the answer we’ve all been dreaming of during those long, inebriated, post- failed-midterm nights at Chuck’s. Soldiers and rescue workers are among the most obvious candidates for the medication, but everyone probably has a couple things they’d want to forget.
Still, people worry. We can only assume these concerns are coming from a panel of middle- aged, over-privileged people who have never had a bad experience in their lives.Though they’re extremely enthusiastic about dispensing ill-founded ethical and medical advice, we should take their opinions with a grain of salt.
With any luck, these pills will become available at Rite Aid. Metyrapone will likely be in high demand for those trying to erase the crushing heartbreak of a failed romance or the lingering shame of a particularly humiliating job interview.Then again, might I suggest extending the old-memory erase to more pressing issues: the Bush administration, the Twilight novels, Michele Bachmann’s eyes, and everything that has ever happened on “Jersey Shore.”
And of course, my career in theater would be fast-tracked.