Newsletter: Should We Erase Bad Memories

Erase Bad Memories Debate


Nita Farahany
Author of “The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology”


Sigal Samuel
Senior Reporter for Vox Future Perfect; Co-host of the “Future Perfect” podcast



Here is what we have in store this week:

We debate the ethical and legal implications of changing a part of ourselves so we can’t feel pain from a bad memory

A closer look at how the procedure accomplishing this works

 Your Sunday reading list



None of us are immune from living through events and experiences we’d like to forget. Many shrug off bad memories as an integral part of being human, but others — especially those who have suffered from traumatic events or mental illness— long for a way to live an emotionally healthier and happier life. One procedure that’s been garnering discussion around its usage is decoded neurofeedback (DecNef).

What is it? Decoded neurofeedback is a technique some scientists think could help disengage — or erase — neural pathways leading to our bad memories by measuring activity in brain regions, decoding the activity, and giving participants control over some brain processes. From there, participants learn to move their neural activity closer to the “ideal” way of thinking over time.

What are the arguments? Those in favor say erasing bad memories would provide people with a path toward emotional healing and relief from the painful parts of their lives that give rise to anxiety, depression, and PTSD. People on the other side point out the ethical and legal issues that may come up from altering this biological process and argue that having bad experiences makes us human and helps shape the person we become. In many cases, trauma can lead to resilience, they say.

Here’s the question: Is erasing unwanted, painful memories worth undergoing a procedure? Is erasing unwanted, painful memories worth undergoing a procedure? If you do, would you want to risk losing a part of your life experience, a part of yourself, and what makes you you?

This week, we debate: Should We Erase Bad Memories? Arguing YES is Nita Farahany, the author of “The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology,” which discusses the ethics between neuroscience and technology. Arguing NO is a senior reporter at Vox Future Perfect and co-host of the Future Perfect podcast, Sigal Samuel.

Listen to our episode now and, as always, let us know what you think of this debate.



Would You be willing to do this procedure?














Should We Erase Bad Memories



“You are in the best position to make that choice [and] you are the one who gets to decide on what terms and under what circumstances you endure your own suffering. For me, that has included overriding bad memories when they were more suffering than I could endure, more suffering than I would choose to endure, and more suffering than any person has a right to tell me that I must endure. I want that choice for me, and I want that choice for you as well.”

Nita Farahany



“A lot of us have heard the term PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. I think fewer people have heard of its flip side, which is post-traumatic growth… Sometimes people can emerge on the other side of a traumatic experience stronger, with new capacities, whether it’s for compassion or new insights. They feel like they’re in some way better than they were before the traumatic event. I worry that with this kind of technology, we may be cheating ourselves out of an opportunity for post-traumatic growth.”

Sigal Samuel




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