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I recently gave an interview for Big Think on erasing memories Eternal Sunshine-style for their series on “Dangerous Ideas.” They are running this series throughout the month of August, and other people in the series include Stephen Hawking, Noam Chomsky, Richard Posner, and Gary Becker.

The entire series, which is still ongoing, can be found here, and my portion on erasing memories can be found here. Below is a video of the interview.


  1. 1. Posted by Patrick Lin | August 14, 2010 3:32 am

    Very nice interview, Matthew.

    Question: When safety and harm to others/self aren’t relevant issues, do you believe that we generally ought to be free to use memory-modification drugs or procedures? Just curious to know if you thought there were other limits at work here (or in human enhancement generally), especially in a military context.

    For instance, clinical depression aside, do we lose something valuable if we erase memories of ordinary sadness or basic human experiences, e.g., death of a family member or pet? Similarly, post-traumatic stress disorder aside, is it important at all for soliders to remember their experiences — the ordinary horrors of war — at least as a reminder that war is so terrible and ought to be avoided?

  2. 2. Posted by S. Matthew Liao | August 20, 2010 4:58 am

    Thanks for your comments, Patrick.

    I think we would definitely lose a number of valuable things if we just erased our memories of certain events without reflecting on what those memories mean for us. Some of those things include appropriate moral reaction, the obligation to remember, the opportunity for self-knowledge, and so on. You might be interested in a paper that a colleague and I have written entited the Normativity of Memory Modification in which we discuss some of these issues in greater detail. The paper can be found here.

  3. 3. Posted by Patrick Lin | August 21, 2010 7:28 pm

    Thanks for the link to your paper, Matthew…good stuff. I may be doing more work in soldier enhancements soon, and your paper raises a number of issues I’d like to think about more and cite.

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