April 8, 2008

Ethics and Morality

Memory Blockers: Lest We Remember

Brian Orchard

Debate emerges from time to time regarding the ethics involved in certain areas of scientific research. One such recent discussion involves the potential development of a drug to erase bad memories. 

While many struggle with the fear of losing their memories, others would dearly love to be able to forget. Painful and emotionally disturbing events are a part of all our lives. For some, however, coping with horrific flashbacks is more than disturbing—it’s an overwhelming daily struggle. Victims of crime and soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress are among those who could conceivably be helped by a pill to erase memories. Many others experience depression as a direct result of abusive treatment in childhood, and removing bad memories would seem like a positive step for them also. The pharmaceuticals involved in this controversial study—beta–adrenergic receptor blockers—are already widely prescribed for various heart conditions and even commonly for high blood pressure, so the step to using them for emotional needs does not seem like a large one. 

There is, however, another aspect of the human mind beyond mere memories. For a moment, consider the mind as a unique creation made by an Intelligent Designer rather than as a result of millions of years of natural development. If humankind is designed in the image of God, as the Bible asserts, then what is the function of the human intellect? 

Life is composed of experiences. Some of those experiences are positive and produce good feelings, while others are negative in varying degrees. As the saying goes, “That’s life!” But surely a loving and benevolent God would want His creation to experience only good? Yet the author of the book of Ecclesiastes states that there is “a time for every purpose under heaven: . . .  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–4). It would appear that human experience would span the whole range of good and bad—positive and negative. 

What would the purpose of this be? Why would an omnipotent God allow us to experience negative life situations? 

Despite some argument in certain circles against a concept of free will, this is exactly where the answer to that question lies. According to the Bible, humans are all free moral agents with the ability to think independently and make individual decisions. God has set before mankind two ways of life. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). It is by making decisions to choose God’s way of life that man develops mentally and spiritually into the image of God. 

Good experiences reinforce decisions that affect character in a positive way, while bad experiences reinforce the understanding that certain behavior brings about negative consequences. The resultant memories of negative life experiences can act as road blocks to a wrong way of thinking and acting—especially when we consider why the experiences were bad and consciously take steps not to repeat them or pass them on to another generation. 

There is no doubt that many people experience terrible situations in their lives that leave them with damaging memories, often through no fault of their own. These memories can have an extremely detrimental effect on their lives. However, in addressing the effects, the causes also should not be overlooked. There is a way of life that encourages the kind of behavior that produces positive experiences and positive memories. It also produces an overall positive frame of mind that can encourage peace even through very stressful circumstances. 

Making right decisions based on that way of life is difficult. It often means doing the hard thing—fighting against natural inclinations. But the effort to make those hard choices will produce the kinds of memories that need not be erased.