Memories Aren’t What They Used to Be

Memories, Aneka has a few problems with hers, but then most of us would like our memories to be better than they are. Scientists, both popular ones and more traditional ones, will tell you that human memory is a little more subjective than we think it is. We don’t always remember what really happened. But what if someone else could make you remember things that never happened?

Science-fiction, of course. That can’t be done except by super-science gizmos or fantasy/science psionics… Not so much. There’s an article over on the BBC’s web site concerning some experimentation done on mice to alter the way they remember events. Basically, by stimulating neurons in the brain, it was possible to make a mouse think that it had had a bad experience in bright light, thus the mouse avoided the light. Actually it had had the bad experience in the dark. Of course that’s a long way from inserting memories into the mind and requires direct insertion of electrodes into the brain. And anyway, what’s it got to do with Steel Beneath the Skin, you might ask.

Jenlay in the core worlds of the Federation tend to be very law abiding citizens. It’s stated a couple of times that there is more crime on the Rim because the medical systems are not as good out there. Kind of odd, right? Worse medicine brings more crime?

Here’s another BBC article on some new research on psychopathic behaviour. It seems that psychopaths are not entirely lacking in empathy, but they only feel it when it’s triggered. So the “charming psychopath” isn’t pretending to feel empathy, they’ve just triggered their empathic “mirror neurons.” So, a genetic basis to psychopathic behaviour which can be fixed, and there have been suggestions before that various anti-social behaviours have genetic characteristics. It’s probably not all nature rather than nurture, but if you take out the genetic tendency for some criminal behaviour, then it’s easier to make sure that carefully engineered neuro-cognitive education teaches the kids that crime is just wrong. The Jenlay don’t leave it down to good genetics, they make careful use of teaching techniques based on their knowledge of how the brain works to reinforce good behaviour. It’s not quite brainwashing; the Jenlay aren’t mindless drones, they do have free will.

So is a peaceful, relatively crime free society worth the loss of a few minor liberties? At the moment, here in our world, we seem to think it is. We’ve allowed the slow erosion of our civil liberties in the name of security for over a decade, probably far longer, but so far we haven’t started changing what we fundamentally are with the aim of making life safer. Would we? I’m quite sure we would. Or at least we would happily contemplate changing other people to make ourselves more secure. When it comes to altering our own children things are likely to get more controversial.


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