Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Changing History

The concept of changing history used to be science fiction. One of my all-time favorite t.v. shows was “Voyagers!” where Phineas Bogg and Jeffrey Jones traveled through time to “fix” history that had gone wrong and get it back on track. I’ve blogged before about the nature of reality as a function of perception. Today, more than ever before, we have the power to alter memory, effectively changing reality. This bring up some interesting practical issues and sometimes thorny ethical ones.

On a practical level, the advent of digital photography allows anyone to alter her own reality. Creative Memories’ Memory Manager software makes it easy to change photos in all sorts of useful ways. Crop your photos, adjust light levels, and even use the clone tool to “erase” unwanted blemishes. As useful and fun as these features are, they are a form of altered reality. How much is too much?

In this fascinating article, a doctor talks about a split second choice to deliberately alter 10 minutes of a young mother’s reality through the administration of a memory-erasing drug. Ellen had chosen to undergo surgery for a suspicious bone tumor with only local anesthesia and the pathologist, not realizing the patient was awake in the operating room, announced over the intercom that the tumor was definitely a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer. The anesthesiologist immediately administered to Ellen a drug that caused her to fall asleep and erased the last 10 minutes of her memory. She woke up calm and happy at the time, although she was told about the cancer at a later date and ultimately died from it 6 years later, never knowing that 10 minutes of her reality had been altered.

As new as this issue feels, we humans have been struggling with “reality” for centuries. The psychological state of disassociative memory disorder is a physical way the brain copes with trauma, essentially altering reality to something the person can handle. But this is a rare disorder. Much more common is “selective memory” where only some of the events in an experience are retrieved. (I think this is also called “aging”!)

So is altered reality a good thing? How much alteration is too much? When is or isn’t it appropriate to alter reality? I suspect we will uncover similar questions and struggle for more conclusive answers in the coming years.

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