The Maze Beckons
"If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat." -Douglas Adams
Researchers have recently claimed to have synthetically created a memory in the mind of a mouse.
Nope, it's not a joke, not a satirical pun, nor a Mighty Mouse plot line, it's an official study. The two teams of researchers relied on a molecule that can combine with a drug to activate nerve cells. They then genetically manufactured mice that would only produce this molecule when certain nerve cells were active, mainly those active during memory recall.
For all those who get super pissed at lab animal experimentation, please stop reading now. I'm serious, there is shock, memory manipulation, and bargain basement treats, you really don't want to read on.
For The Greater Good
The fist research team placed the mice in a blank white room that was essentially devoid of any real sensory overload and let them play to their hearts content. While they were playing, the researchers tagged their memory of the joyful white room.
The mice were then placed in a black and white checkered room that had a wintergreen scent and a grid floor. While playing in this room, the mice were subjected to a shock from the floor. In conventional fashion, the mice responded by freezing any time they were placed in the room.
In the experimental portion of the trial, the researchers would activate the memory of the white room while the mice where in the shock room being shocked. This led to the mice forming a hybrid memory and reacting by only freezing when in the black and white room while thinking of the blank white room. No shock needed. Boom...science.
The second team used a much more basic, and brutal, approach. The first day of the experiment they scared the crap out of the mice and associated the fear with a light. The second day, they placed the mice in a control room and flashed that light, obviously scaring the crap out of them again. Boom...science.
This "research" brings a couple of things to mind. First, this seems very similar to a Pavlovian type experiment, in which stimulus is met with negative/positive reinforcement and a behavior is learned after repetition. Fear is a learned behavior.
Yes, it's totally awesome they genetically engineered a mouse. Yes, it's close to unbelievable they can tag memories and recall them. No, there is absolutely no way to know if the mice were actually recalling a memory or learning a response. Make this conclusion a reality with a human subject and I will gladly dispense with my cynicism, replacing it with cautious wonder.
Secondly, holy mind control capability Batman! The implications (stated as beneficial to memory loss patients) of this experiment are both extraordinary and terrible. Think Total Recall, Paycheck, Wolverine, and many more plots that have tackled what happens when we begin messing with human memory. Some equally scary and marvelous stuff.
But what is the next step? Weigh in below...