Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Memory Engineering

I had no idea when I wrote Death Demystified that there was active research in this field, but it turns out that memory engineering is here (at least in mice, and maybe what's being engineered is more like feelings of unease than real episodic memories... but still!).

The technique is actually very highly advanced: Mice are genetically engineered to produce neurons that are photosensitive. The neuronal patterns associated with one particular habitat are recorded, and later those same neurons are excited by researchers while electric shocks are administered (If mice had a culture, I'm sure they'd all be anti-science hippies) in a second habitat, with the result that (apparently) the mice develop a memory of receiving shocks in the first habitat. The evidence is in their behavior, which includes increased fear-related actions (freezing in place, etc.) in the first habitat, as well as avoiding entering that habitat altogether. All this despite nothing bad ever happening to them in that room. Kind of spooky.

It's still a long way from my little sci-fi tale, but it does seem to make what I thought would be the harder part (implanting the memories and experiences of a simulated brain into a physical one) seem a lot more realistic than I'd imagined. It also should make it more clear that your entire personality and memory are completely encoded in the structure of your brain, not some ethereal super-entity that remains unchanged by petty physical manipulation.