Why are we obsessed with playing with our brains?  Is it because we understand the least about our thought processes and that unknown threatens us?  Does God live in the mind?  If we puncture the blood-brain barrier, have we finally captured the magic behind the red velvet rope line?


Here’s a semiotic history of our playing with brains:

1.  Trepanning:  Drilling holes in our brains to help us “think better.”

2.  Lobotomies:  Used to control sexual desire and irreverent behavior.


3.  Electric Shock Therapy:  To help lift a depressed mind.

4.  Panopticonic Thought:  Mind control for military pleasure.

5.  Memory Erasure:  Wiping the brain clean with drug therapy — is it possible to have “Deja Vu Moments” — if your original memory of the moment is gone?

Is the power of our brain in our not really understanding how it works — or do we understand enough about the brain to know we must control its perceptions, analysis and ability to store information?

20 Comments

  1. Vis-a-vis deja vu I think it might occur because the erasure is not complete so the fragment that is there makes you think you know you have seen / felt the thing before, but you just don’t know why.

  2. Do you think we’ll ever crack the thought processes of the brain, Katha?
    There are already programs that can “read” your thinking in that you can “think” the letter “A” and the computer will understand you mean “A” instead of “B.”
    I suppose there’s also some benefit in partial memory erasure when it comes to traumatic experiences like maulings or PTSD.

  3. I don’t think it’s possible to completely erase a memory. Just like a hard drive that requires a regular defrag, except there is no software to defragment our brain 🙂

  4. Here’s part of the last article I linked about memory erasure:

    Amping up a chemical in the mouse brain and then triggering the animal’s recall can cause erasure of those, and only those, specific memories, according to research in the most recent issue of the journal Neuron. While the study was done in mice that were genetically modified to react to the chemical, the results suggest that it might one day be possible to develop a drug for eliminating specific, long-term memories, something that could be a boon for those suffering from debilitating phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder.

    What do you make of that, Gordon? If the memory is erased, is it gone, or is there a way to restore it after the therapy?
    Here’s another interesting link about self-erasing memories:
    http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/19045/
    Can we will away bad memories?

  5. The brain is our least understood organ and therefore probably our most feared. We tend to fear what we cannot understand.
    The brain is also equated to our mind and our control center. We have an inherent fear of “loosing our minds” and therefore not being in control of ourselves and actions.
    Disorders of the mind – mental disabilities are highly discriminated against in the UK – when they are too severe they tend to fall into the ” park and forget ” category – ie put in a home and forget about them.
    What might get our understanding of the brain moving forward is the emerging need to understand Alzheimer’s Disease – in the UK our increasingly elderly population means this condition is now costing our National Health Service a lot of extra money to treat and care for sufferers – so much so that they are now pumping a lot of money into research in this area.

  6. Great comment, Nicola!
    I agree we are in fear of the power of the minds of others. How many times have you asked an intimate “What are you thinking?” and hoping for a tidbit of insight from a shy mind?
    So instead of finding ways for the mind to coax us into understanding, we prefer to invade the space and tear it apart to find its hidden treasures.
    Science will succeed in figuring out how we think — but will they be able to answer why? Will they be able to change or even create memories and personalities?

  7. Hi David,
    It’s amazing how little we truly know about the brain organ and the mind. I’ve had a few deja vu moments and sometimes there’s no way that the moment could have happened before (the person, the place, the conversation having never coincided before) – completely unexplainable.
    lobotomy reminds me of the sad story of Josef Hassid.
    http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=8366
    http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Transorbital-lobotomy

  8. There is a theory, Dananjay, that Deja Vu is trick the brain plays on the body to provide comfort and familiarity in times of distress. When you experienced Deja Vu — what was your state of mind and the condition of your body.
    I appreciate the sad case of Josef Hassid.
    The lobotomy link I used in my article goes to Rose Kennedy. Her father had her lobotomized because she was promiscuous and he didn’t want any bastard children running around that he’d have to support on the family money. The lobotomy was clumsily done and she was institutionalized for the rest of her life.

  9. Glad to know it, Dananjay. I think in the moments I’ve experienced Deja Vu it has been off-putting and I struggle with the understanding — “I’ve been here before.” — and I have always wondered about the state of my unconscious being in those instants.

  10. Hi David,
    I understand there are programs to decipher our thought process, but I am not sure if it could follow the complex process of it. Why we do what we do – I mean.
    I agree with you about the partial memory eraser thing – it helps to recover quickly.
    There are always certain incidents in life which are better to erase.

  11. I am still pretty convinced that even if a memory gets wiped, it still has some residue left over. Hmm. I like how the article you link references Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. 🙂

  12. That makes sense, Katha. The machines may understand we are thinking about an “A” but they will likely not know the exact why of it outside of wanting to spell something.
    The mind already sort of erases awful memories. People in terrible car crashes and other threats to the body sometimes wake up in the hospital with no memory of what happened. It’s as if the mind knows the body cannot relive the moment and so that part of the experience is forever expunged.

  13. “How many times have you asked an intimate “What are you thinking?” and hoping for a tidbit of insight from a shy mind?”
    Guilty as charged!
    Or the less invasive – how did/does that make you feel?
    I personally need to know what makes my friends tick – I admire minds – I collect minds and information.
    “Science will succeed in figuring out how we think — but will they be able to answer why? Will they be able to change or even create memories and personalities?”
    If they figure out the first – I think the second may follow. I think all the patterns/pieces of the jigsaw will come together at one stage – but I also think that will raise a whole lot other questions.
    The mind already blocks out memories it cannot deal with – your car crash example. The problem is that really painful memories can fester and cause problems long term in the form of sleeping disorders, depression and mental illness.
    I would like to think we will be able to unlock our memories – both good and bad – I am not sure about creating memories that never existed.
    Having said that I have have personally worked on overprinting bad memories with good ones using a combination of age regression and age play.
    I have also worked with those who are gender transitioning mostly male to female. Those going through the process do not have teenage memories for their new gender – so we set out to create them so they have an understanding of them.
    Changing personalities already happens throughout life because of events and how we react to them – criminals see the light – people have near death experiences – go *off the rails* and suffer personality change from prescribed and recreational drug use.
    It would be nice to think that we could decriminalize a criminal mind – but if we get to that stage we would also be able to strip a mind of any moral code of behavior or ethics as well – and I am not so keen on that. Imagine an army of soldiers all wired a certain way – all with the same personality – shudder!

  14. That’s a fantastic comment, Nicola! Your insights are right on target, I think.
    I am sort of cursed with the ability to exactly remember experiences and conversations in images going all the way back to childhood. They are sort of branded in my brain and I relive them in quiet moments and it can make one slightly uncomfortable when those moments are unpleasing — so I visualize that repetitive image and then I use a giant pink eraser in my visual mind and literally erase the image, or parts of it, from my view.
    That sort of proactive action from the immediate me in the instant now is enough, it seems, to cancel out the ghost images of the past from re-appearing.

  15. A good friend of mine who is a trained criminal psychologist amongst other things – tells me that most people only remember the significant – the good and the bad – you tend not to remember the gray in between.
    The depth of the experience you remember enhances the detail in which you remember it – or if too bad lock down and out.
    I love your visualization exercise – I shall be sharing that if I may.