Let’s take a look at the goings on inside your brain. Do you remember the time you dated Miranda Kerr and drove a Bugatti Veyron around the Nuerburgring? Well soon you can. Scientists are working on implanting false memories into people’s brains.
Lawyers mastered this art long ago. Countless people have been sent to wallow in prison or worse because of false memories. Witnesses who claim they saw something are really just victims of their own brains ‘filling in the gaps’ with the help of a prosecutor to ‘jog’ their memory.
The way the new science works is fascinating. Basically, the brain is lazy and only remembers the parts it thinks it needs. Then it fills in the gaps based on logic and previous experience to construct a narrative that makes sense. Whether the narrative is correct is another matter.
This might seem like an efficient way of going about remembering things. But it also makes you biased. How you view the world affects which facts your brain does and doesn’t think it needs to remember to come up with its narrative. A racist will note someone’s race and stereotype their actions to fill in the gaps. Your brother is never wrong, so he can’t possibly be lying, so he thinks anything he says is true.
In the movie 12 Angry Men, a train obscures a witness’ view of the murder. He quite happily fills in the gaps based on logic, his biases and his previous experiences. His testimony seems rock solid — he saw the whole thing after all. But, as the jurors figure out, the train would’ve obscured what the same witness claimed to hear at the same point in time. His testimony is shaky because his biases filled the gaps his ears couldn’t fill.
Hypnotherapists deal with all this too. By changing what the brain considers important enough to remember and adjusting the biases of how the gaps are filled in, you can change someone’s behaviour. Rather than thinking about the movie Snakes on a Plane when you see your nephew’s pet python, a hypnotist will get you to think of how funny it was when the same python ate your niece’s pet hamster and everyone had to pretend it died of old age. Suddenly a memory which triggers fear and discomfort becomes amusing. And you’re much more likely to hang out with the python and your nephew.
Implanting memories sounds like a rather horrifying development. But it needn’t be if you think of some of the more practical uses. Like learning German in a day or the rest and rejuvenation you feel from having been on a holiday to Bali without actually having to go. These days, people only seem to do things to document them on Facebook anyway. But by combining the power of Photoshop and implanted memories, you could live an epic life without any of the guilt that comes with lying about it. The investment play? Short tourism, long Facebook.
On a more practical note, imagine if abuse victims, post traumatic stress sufferers and other people could get rid of or change their recollection of past events. Now that would be an industry to get into while the Americans continue invading countries in the Middle East.
Implanting memories is still a few years away yet. So far it can only be used to scare mice. But Kris Sayce and Sam Volkering are onto some more cutting edge technologies in their newsletter Revolutionary Tech Investor. One is so cutting edge you can find it in our office.
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