Spotless Minds: Are We Ready For Those?

A pill that was once seen as romanticized sci-fi might be on its way to becoming a commercialized drug. This pill eradicates bad memories, erasing their existence completely. If you’ve ever seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and cried like I did, every single time) and wondered if you would erase something or someone if given the chance, you might soon be able to make that choice.

To be honest, I’m totally baffled by this. I can’t wrap my mind around it, so I did some research in order for the concept to seem tangible. Although I’m still not sure how the pill can accurately pin-point a single memory (never mind several?) that has been stored in your brain, the drug allegedly lowers our levels of cortisol (according to NBC news), which is the stress hormone that elevates whenever we think about a bad event that has happened in our lives. The Daily Mail has some information that shows that these pills consist of beta-blockers, which are classically used to treat heart disease; experiments on animals (I know, ugh), show that this drug can “interfere with how the brain makes and remakes memories of frightening events.”

To test the extent of this interference, researchers asked 33 college students to watch a disturbing video of a little girl who accidentally saws her hand off. The hand is explicitly shown to the students  in order to evoke emotional stress. After the viewing, saliva was collected from each student to measure the levels of cortisol. A few days later, these same students were either given a placebo or 1-2 doses of a drug that lowers cortisol levels. When asked to recall the video, the students that were given the drug had a difficult time remembering the horrid details; it seems as though the higher the dosage, the less likely the participant could remember anything. Four days later, they were asked to recall the video once more, and the students still had a tough time remembering the scenes that caused stress and discomfort.

My problem with this study, is that it really doesn’t address how this pill can suppress old memories. This drug is being endorsed by scientists (and maybe drug companies or lobbyists, who knows) because it could help people with post traumatic stress disorder. But so far, all of the studies just show that the drug can dull extremely recent memories inflicted upon participants/patients. The idea of exposing someone to the event (or something similar) in order to treat them seems kind of barbaric and Clockwork Orange-y.

But okay. Technical issues aside, let’s say this drug is introduced to the general population. Let’s look at both sides of the argument.


1. It could really help individuals who have suffered with PTSD their entire lives.

2. For anyone who has been abused, both physically and verbally, this may allow that person to move forward and be happy.

3. You can forget middle school ever happened.

4. Like Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you could go ahead and erase the existence of a terrible (or difficult) relationship you had.

5. You can erase all of your regrets, embarrassing moments, or situations you wished you handled differently.

6. If you wanted, you could forget this year’s VMAs ever happened.


1. Bad memories can be defining. Terrible events make you who you are.

2. We’re not sure what the side effects are. You could potentially lose all your memories, including the good ones. And if the drugs are made with beta-blockers, you might develop heart-related health issues.

3. If a criminal or drug user took this pill and erased all of the memories of crimes committed and drugs used, the lessons may never be learned.

4. If the drug becomes easily available, people can abuse it.

5. It’s probably going to be really expensive and I’m assuming not covered by insurance companies.

6. You need to date a few lemons before making an Arnold Palmer. Okay, that was really bad. But seriously, isn’t that the crux of love?

7. We don’t know how long each pill lasts. Could we grow a resistance to it?

What do you guys think? Would you take this pill to erase something from your life for good?

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