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The Normativity of Memory Modification

Abstract

The prospect of using memory modifying technologies raises interesting and important normative concerns. We first point out that those developing desirable memory modifying technologies should keep in mind certain technical and user-limitation issues. We next discuss certain normative issues that the use of these technologies can raise such as truthfulness, appropriate moral reaction, self-knowledge, agency, and moral obligations. Finally, we propose that as long as individuals using these technologies do not harm others and themselves in certain ways, and as long as there is no prima facie duty to retain particular memories, it is up to individuals to determine the permissibility of particular uses of these technologies.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. For a good discussion of issues relating to safety, distributive justice, and coercion in regards to the development of memory modification technologies, see, e.g., Farah et al. [22]. For a good discussion of some of the issues in which we are interested, see also Levy [47]; Wasserman [94].

  2. For example, Plato’s Theaetetus.

  3. See James [41]; Brown [9]; Peterson and Peterson [65].

  4. See Scoville and Milner [74]; Shallice and Warrington [75]; Zola-Morgan and Squire [97].

  5. See Squire and Zola-Morgan [82].

  6. See Schachter and Tulving [70].

  7. It should be noted that many scholars use the term working memory instead of or including the older concept short-term memory.

  8. See Waugh and Norman [95]; Baddeley [4]; Baddeley [5].

  9. See Averbach and Sperling [1].

  10. See Baddeley [2, 3]. It should be noted that there are alternative accounts of working memory in terms of activated long-term memories and focus of attention, e.g. Cowan [13].

  11. See Cohen and Squire [12]; Squire et al. [81].

  12. See Tulving [89].

  13. See Scoville and Milner [74]; Cohen and Squire [12]; Zola-Morgan and Squire [97].

  14. See Fuster [28]; Squire and Kandel [80].

  15. See Tulving [88].

  16. See Graham et al. [32].

  17. See Mcclelland [55]; Baddeley [2] But see also Nadel and Moscovitch [61], which shows that semantic knowledge can be acquired as one-shot learning and during impaired episodic memory.

  18. See Schmidt [72]; McGaugh [56].

  19. See Bechara et al. [6].

  20. See Fanselow and LeDoux [21]; Medina et al. [57]; Moita et al. [59].

  21. See Cahill and McGaugh [10]; McGaugh [56].

  22. See Hurlemann et al. [39].

  23. See Hebb [36]; Squire and Kandel [80]; Kandel [42]. While long-term memory depends on LTP, short-term memory appears to be independent of it. According to most biological theories of working memory, short-term memory consists of self-sustaining neural activity patterns rather than synaptic change [28].

  24. See Przybyslawski and Sara [67]; Debiec et al. [19]; Lee et al. [46].

  25. See Lynch [52].

  26. See Tang et al. [83]; Routtenberg et al. [69]; Wang et al. [93].

  27. See de Quervain and Papassotiropoulos [17].

  28. See Caine et al. [11].

  29. See King [45].

  30. See Pastalkova et al. [64]; Shema et al. [78].

  31. See Walker et al. [92].

  32. See Hupbach et al. [38].

  33. See Hupbach et al. [38].

  34. See Debiec et al. [18]; Doyère et al. [20].

  35. See Tronson and Taylor [87].

  36. See Pitman et al. [66]; Vaiva et al. [90].

  37. See The President’s Council on Bioethics [84]; Schogol [73].

  38. See Wagner et al. [91].

  39. See Loftus [50]; Hyman and Loftus [40]; Gonsalves and Paller [31]; Thomas and Loftus [85]; Loftus [49].

  40. See Schacter [71].

  41. See Hyman and Loftus [40].

  42. See Gonsalves and Paller [31].

  43. See Lindsay et al. [48].

  44. See Gerrie et al. [30]; Garry and Gerrie [29].

  45. See Spanos et al. [79].

  46. See Mazzoni et al. [54].

  47. See Holderfield [37].

  48. See Doyère et al. [20].

  49. A vivid fictional example is found in Borge’s short story Fuentes the Memorious [8].

  50. See Luria [51].

  51. See Parker et al. [63].

  52. See Murphy [60], pp. 85–90.

  53. See Kass [43].

  54. See Schacter [71].

  55. See also Wasserman [94] for a different example.

  56. See Weber [96].

  57. See, e.g., Frankfurt [26].

  58. See Schacter [71].

  59. See Weber [96].

  60. See Sheen et al. [76, 77].

  61. See Dåderman and Lidberg [15]; Dåderman et al. [14].

  62. See Levy [47].

  63. See Manninen [53].

  64. See also Wasserman, D. and S. Matthew Liao. “Issues in the Pharmacological Induction of Emotions,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, forthcoming for this point.

  65. See e.g. Nyberg and Tulving [62] for the examples of dissociations between the memory systems.

  66. See Fava et al. [23, 24]; Furukawa et al. [27].

  67. Greene et al. have studied the neurocognition of personal vs. impersonal moral judgement, finding higher activation of brain areas correlated with emotion for person-moral judgement and more cognition-related areas for impersonal judgement [34, 33]. Whether lowering emotional arousal could contribute to more adaptive moral cognition beside changed moral cognition is an interesting question.

  68. In particular, see Nyberg and Tulving [62] and Kensinger and Giovanello [44].

  69. See Thomson [86] p. 77.

  70. See, e.g., Finnis [25] pp. 85–90.

  71. See, e.g., Rawls [68]; Griffin [35]. For an interesting account of welfare, see Darwall [16], who argues that someone’s good is what one should want for that person insofar as one cares for her.

  72. See Mill [58].

  73. See Bluck et al. [7].

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank David Wasserman, Gustaf Arrhenisu, Wibke Gruetjen, and audiences at the Neuroethics/Philosophy and Neuroscience Mini-Symposium at Oxford University, Centre for Ethics in Medicine at Bristol University, the ENHANCE Workshop at the Stockholm Bioethics Centre at Stockholm University, for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Liao, S.M., Sandberg, A. The Normativity of Memory Modification. Neuroethics 1, 85–99 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-008-9009-5

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Keywords

  • Memory
  • Memory modification
  • Enhancement
  • Cognitive enhancement
  • Ethical issues
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder