Why erase memories that make us wince or cringe?

As seen in Men in Black, you may realise unpleasant memories were bruising but somehow defining moments in your life

Share
Related Topics

Would you like to be able to erase memories at will? I think you probably would, wouldn’t you? The memory of your first sexual experience and what the polite, and probably well-meaning, partner said about it, shortly afterwards?

The time you told your grandmother that joke about incontinence because everyone else had found it funny? The excruciating hour-and-a-half of root-canal treatment last Friday? Those memories?

Well, things are looking up. Popular Science magazine says we’re “on the verge of erasing and even rewriting memories. The hope is that this research will lead to medical treatments, especially for addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Oh, come on, guys. This isn’t something you’ll use just for the serious stuff like un-remembering scenes of war and carnage. There will be a massive commercial demand for the technology which will rid you at last of the memory of trying to demonstrate your Bruce Lee spin-and-flying-kung-fu-drop-kick to impress a girl called Susannah outside a pub in Oxford in 1975.

Or that’s what I thought at first. But no sooner do you summon up nasty memories, and wish there were a sonic device to flush them away for ever, as seen in Men in Black, you realise they were bruising but somehow defining moments in your life: when, aged five, I watched my mother’s car, come to collect me from school, pulling away as if she’d forgotten me; when, aged 28, I looked through my camera lens to take an immemorial photo of all my uncles and aunts, standing at a funeral, reassembled, in old age, from all over the globe for their last time together, and the shutter jammed; when, aged 49, I briefly lost my daughter on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue outside a department store whose name I can never hear without my heart freezing.

These are ghastly memories that the brain tries to wink out of sight. They haunt my life. But I know I wouldn’t be myself without them. They’re the ochre shades in your portrait, the fleck of darkness in your imagination, the knowledge of the closeness of ungovernable sorrow without having ever drowned in it.

And yes, if you press me, I wouldn’t erase the memory of the polite young lady either; hindsight cringing is good for you. But the root-canal stuff I could probably live without. Hand me that Sonic Obliterator would you?

More from John Walsh this week here: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/lessons-to-take-from-the-greatest-film-flops-8967618.html

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher Thetford Secondary

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: An Academy based in Thetfor...

Secondary Teacher Great Yarmouth

£115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently work...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Special Needs Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jules and Delaney  

Disney needs a princess with Down's syndrome

Keston Ott Dahl
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge  

Step away from Pottermore, JK Rowling. Your new Harry Potter stories are driving me mad

Caspar Salmon
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes