Heartbreak Eraser

13 Apr


There are some instances in our lives that we just want to forget, but would you voluntarily wipe them from you memory?

According to  neuroscience  professor and savant, Andre Fenton, there is a good chance that this will be possible in the future. He and a team of neuroscientists at SUNY Downstate  have been conducting research on this topic for several years, involving rats, shocking them, erasing that specific memory with a drug called ZIP and then seeing if the rats would remember how to avoid being shocked.

I really don’t want to be a rat in my next lifetime.

But here lies the question: are memories, as bad as some might be, worth erasing? In the case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,  in which specific memories cause debilitating anxiety, it might not be such a bad idea. However, is having such a drug available to society en masse a  good prospect?

I’m going to take this a step further. Below are two individuals who are “in the parsha.” Both have had a less than optimal experience in the dating field and are coping with it as best they can . However…with ZIP on the market, maybe their problems could simply erased. All it takes in one dose and poof…goodbye bad memories.

 Rafi: Like most singles, Rafi endured more awkward first dates and disappointing breakups than he cares to remember, but unlike all singles, he also experienced the searing devastation of a broken engagement. His former kallah broke the wedding off a mere three weeks before the Big Day. It’s taken time to accept that his dream of building a life with her will never be, but he no longer fights reality. He’s even gone out a few times. Still, he struggles to make a solid connection with any of the women he courts. He feels like he did this already and doesn’t have the ability to do it again. In short, he feels like his lost his one chance. If only he could forget about his former kallah, maybe he wouldn’t struggle.

Frayda:  Faced with the challenge of dating as a young divorcee, Frayda has it particularly challenging. At the age of 22, she is back in the position she thought left at the chupa a year and a half ago. Moving on has been extremely hard for her now that she is automatically excluded from marrying certain men (i.e. a Kohen). Though the marriage ended on account of viable reasons, she misses the safety and security she felt while being married. When class gets boring or work becomes slow, she drifts back to the memories of a relationship lost. She sighs over the memory of packing his lunches and the tenderness in his eyes when he brought her flowers for shabbat. There were good aspects…but they couldn’t overcome the differences. She needs medication to sleep through the night; to forget the anxieties she has since accumulated.

What would you tell these people in a society that has access to take ZIP? Would you be in favor of giving them the drug or would you persuade them not to?

16 Responses to “Heartbreak Eraser”

  1. ZZB April 13, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    It will be really awkward if someone else brings up the erased events. Also, wouldn’t it be necessary for Frayda to know she can’t marry a cohen?
    Thought provoking.

    • Coral Cap April 13, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

      True, but generally if someone had a broken engagement or gets a divorce, other people don’t bring it up unless the person brings it up first.

      It definitely is necessary for Frayda to know she is “off limits” to Kohens. Still it can be hard for a girl who once had the wide open world of Jewish men open to her whittled down to a smaller pool.

  2. SC April 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    The problem isn’t really with these individuals at all, but how society is treating them. Erasing their memories won’t solve the issue.

    This reminds me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

  3. Sun inside Rain April 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    I don’t know what I’d tell them but I’d definitely sign up to erase some memories from my past!

  4. %Shocked% April 13, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    In theory it sounds like a lovely idea, but practically, I’d say it’s impossible to erase all vestiges of any given “old” memory. I hate to use a fantasy book as an example, but in Harry Potter I believe the point is made that a person can only be “obliviated” of memories that occurred within a very recent time frame because after that, many things have already occurred because of that happening. Without those memories, the person will know that something is very wrong. For example, in the case of Frayda, you would have to explain why she can’t marry a Kohen, why she has to wear a shaitel (according to some she doesn’t have to, but I don’t know if she follows that stance), why her kesubah goes down, how she lost her virginity, why many people give her sad looks, etc etc etc. Not only that, but erasing the memory may not erase the emotions felt because of that memory. In other words, people who suffer from depression often don’t even recall the reasons that they became depressed. And the reason that they’re depressed today has absolutely nothing to do with the original depression. Yet, they’re still depressed. I think it gets to the point that the emotions from a memory become exclusive of that memory. Therefore, very little would be accomplished.

    I wish it would work though :-/

  5. Stuck In Shidduchim April 14, 2011 at 4:02 am #

    Let’s remember that everything Hashem puts us through is for our good, no matter how bad it sounds ans looks. And when Hashem puts us through though times, He also gives us the strength to cope with them. Moreover, difficulties are here to learn from, overcome the next challenges. What would be the point if we forgot everything?

    Personnally, if I look back, there is definetely stuff I wish I didn’t have to deal with, but now that I have, I wouldn’t give away these experiences because they formed me into who I am today and each day anew, I use these experiences. To me there are tools to deal with the present and the future, to avoid making the same mistakes and a weapon to protect me from people who stand in my way, because remember, difficulties make you stronger…

  6. Coral Cap April 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    SC- Interesting point. How is the way society treats these individuals the main issue? I’m very curious to hear the answer.

    Shocked- Great points, and just so you know, Harry Potter references are always welcome on my blog!Just because her memories have been obliviated doesn’t change her status as a divorced woman according to Halacha. Not knowing why she is unallowed to a Kohen, why she covers her hair, etc, etc could be even more disorienting than living with the memories of her marriage.

    It’s also good to know that erasing the memories will not necessarily erase the emotions, as you mentioned in reference to those with depression. Thank you for your insight.

    Stuck in Shidduchim- You’re absolutely right about Hashem giving us situations that are good for us, even if they don’t seem that way on the surface. He gives us the ability to cope with those situations, though it’s up to the person to find those coping mechanisms. Who would any of us be without some of those happenstances we wished never occurred? There is no way around G-d’s will, and using a pill to erase what might have been a necessary tikkun might has severe repercussions we aren’t aware of. It’s a scary thought becuase erasing a specific memory with a pill has never been an option until now. It makes me wonder what kind of world is ahead of us in the next few decades…

    Sun Inside Rain- Has anything good been linked to these bad memories? Cuz erasing the bad might also erase the good. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Princess Lea April 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    To echo what was said before, every experience we have is meant to teach.

    For Rafi, maybe he should take a step back and really make peace with the past before moving on. A therapist to help him sort out his thoughts, and little leisure time, and then after a while he can tackle dating again. He shouldn’t rush this.

    For Frayde, there aren’t that many cohanim to make dating problematic for her, but there are other issues. A marriage just doesn’t go “poof” after a year in a half when the other party seems to be kind and considerate. Even if she’s a hypothetical, the issues from her failed marriage are vital to ensure success of the following relationship.

    Removing everything they know wouldn’t help. It would hinder.

  8. Sun inside Rain April 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Some memories are worth forgetting, even if I forget the good memories linked to them as well. Then again, I know it’s a cop-out. Just sounds enticing :-).

  9. Feivel April 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Being that all things which happen are hashgocha pratis, and essentially good, and besides that even experiences which we relate to as negative can still be appreciated through the knowledge/experienced gained, I can not see any real benefit in the erasing of memories. On the contrary, this could be incredibly dangerous.

  10. SC April 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Coral Cap – The reason so many people feel depressed about their situation, ex. being divorced or single, is because society treats it as a problem. Yes, I understand that a divorcee has restrictions about whom they can marry, but that doesn’t mean they sit around felling sorry for themselves. Yet people will treat them like a nebach case, saying how awful and difficult their predicament is.

    Same thing with older singles. They are constantly being made to feel that they are second class citizens, and will never really be important until they are married, no matter how successful or accomplished they are. I don’t have to go into detail, because there are enough blogs around that discuss this issue- but my point is that the reason so many people suffer is from societal pressure and/or misplaced sympathy. So while erasing memories may take away the pain temporarily, it will not remove the social stigma that will continue to hurt them.

  11. Irina April 21, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    Very interesting question. I agree with the commenters that everything is from Hashem and for a reason, a good reason. But as a separate point, what about if drugs could erase present negative feelings, not just memories? Oh wait, we have those already (painkillers, anti-depressants). I wonder if there is anyone who opposes those drugs for the reasons mentioned above…

    • %Shocked% April 28, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

      I do, Irina. First off, I think a distinction can be made between the drugs you want to exist and the painkillers and anti-depressants. The drug you want literally erases the bad memories whereas the medications that are available only repress them or offset the emotional pain that the person would normally feel. But in general, the only time anti-depressants should be used are in situations where the person has virtually no functionality (i.e. can’t work, has no interests, etc.) because the benefits to using these drugs are few and far between. So, if the person is “simply” going through a hard time, I’d say the question is a non-starter. Assuming the person is going through absolute hell, then they should be on medication regardless of how efficient the drug is at either completely erasing the memories (the super, unavailable medication) or ameliorating the pain so that they can face them (current anti-depressants).

      I’d say that medication is always, always, a last resort. Aside from the stigma one receives from society, the long-term health risks and side effects are potentially horrific.

      Also, I think that most people who make a retrospective cost-benefit analysis when they have endured an emotional hardship would agree that they would have preferred not going through the experience, but that they gained and learned a lot about themselves (and others) by having experienced (and remembering!) what occurred.

      Just my 1.5 cents 🙂 (I don’t think they’re worth 2 FULL pennies lol)

  12. Harryer than them all May 4, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    מַיִם רַבִּים, לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה, וּנְהָרוֹת, לֹא יִשְׁטְפוּהָ Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it”

    Thats what i told people who when i had a bad breakup. I guess it takes time, or therapy, or both

    • Coral Cap May 23, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

      Harry- Sorry for the lateness of this comment. I think hearing that line would depress me even more if I just broke up with someone. How do people usually respond to that and what more do you tell them?

      • harryer than them all May 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

        i wouldn’t necessarily tell it to people, obviously.
        To me it always meant that not much can erase love, rather what most people have found is that time does.

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