Eternal Dimness of the Cluttered Mind (Part 2 of 2)

Posted: March 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

(Go here to read Part 1.)

What if memories could be selectively erased?

BrainScientifically speaking, that may be possible. Our brains already work to push away bad memories through substitution and suppression. Also, some studies claim that therapy may make it possible to (sort of) erase memories.

While the literal science/psychology is interesting, I’m more interested in the hypothetical “What if?” scenario.

In film, TV, and literature, there are plenty of stories in which characters are presented the option of erasing bad memories. My favorite example of this, which is also one of my favorite movies, is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In this film, the main character Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) both undergo a fictional procedure to erase their minds of each other after their break-up.

Eternal Sunshine

Joel (Jim Carrey) undergoing the mind-erasing procedure in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It is a fantastic movie for a number of reasons, one if which is how it spurs on self-reflection: if this procedure were real, would you use it? If so, on what memories? And why?

My personal answer to this question is…I don’t know.

I know, quite the cop out. But let me explain.

If I address that question specifically about relationships, the degree to which I’d be willing to pull the trigger on the procedure varies from relationship to relationship. In my fairytale breakup, I have no need to erase anything. Time already erased the bad and left behind the good memories. In other relationships, there was nothing traumatic done to me that requires erasing. And yet, in other relationships there are memories that bother me quite a bit, even long after the fact.

The question becomes this: if a memory bothers me a lot, what else would I lose by erasing it?

Would erasing that memory skew my entire perspective on the relationship? Would this change fundamentally who I am and have become? Would there be mistakes I am then doomed to repeat because I don’t have this knowledge anymore?

In other words, bad memories may be beneficial and productive in some cases.

However, the level of drama (and trauma) I’ve dealt with in relationships is peanuts compared to issues many people have dealt with. For example, let’s move away from romantic relationships.

Every week, my dad and I do volunteer work at his VFW post. He is a Vietnam vet, and members from the post range from World War 2 to current conflicts. Most of the members I know are my dad’s age and fought in Vietnam. Some of them suffer from PTSD and have gone through therapy to deal with the horrible things they experienced. Some have told me a portion of what they went through and saw, and I can’t even begin to imagine having been in their shoes.

From the outside looking in, having never been  soldier myself, I wonder if they wouldn’t prefer to snap their fingers and have all of those memories wiped away. On the other hand, I’ve listened to so many of their war stories, and I’ve listened to them all banter about the good and bad memories of serving, and it is clear that these aren’t just memories; this is a part of their identity. These shared experiences are also what creates the camaraderie between all of the veterans.  If these memories were taken away, would it be like taking themselves away?

So, the questions may become this: at what point does the “productivity” of traumatic memories get outweighed by their negativity? When does the memory stop being a tool to learn from and start cluttering our mind to the point of being a roadblock? When does the memory stop being a piece of our identity and start consuming us?


The only real conclusion I can come to is that these are such personal questions that are impacted by our own variables: our own personalities, how we deal with memories, how we deal with trauma. The question of erasing memories begs for a unique answer from all of us.

So, what’s your unique answer? If you could erase some of your memories, would you do it?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s