January 19, 2014
On the Leacock Trail
Pondering the Merits of Selective Lobotimization
Hiking the Leacock Trail this morning, I found myself contemplating the viability and/or wisdom of selectively removing unpleasant memories from our minds. This is apparently a new avenue of research in the various behavioral sciences, as a possible means of cutting-edge treatment for people suffering from things like PTSD.
Admittedly this seems like a fairly abstract topic to ruminate about on such an otherwise pleasant and serene hike, but for me unfortunately the Leacock Trail is associated with one persistent and persistently intrusive bad memory which, frankly, I'd love to delete. Some years ago, I was hiking the trail with my son. He was probably right around two years old, and most typically I hiked with him in a backpack, but on occasion I'd hold his hand and let him walk alongside me on the easy parts.
On one particular day, as he toddled alongside me, we were attacked by a dog. It was a little dog, no particular threat to me, but it was off a leash, and barking and snapping and snarling, and it triggered an immediate and formidable protective response in me, then still a relatively new father. I kicked the dog, hard—just as the owner, a young woman, arrived at the scene.
That initiated a shouting match between the two of us that soon escalated dangerously close to blows. And then her boyfriend, a young man, arrived. I often think, from a distance, how that encounter might have turned out differently, how it might have been much, much worse. But for some lucky reason, the boyfriend, the only one of us with a cool head that day, quickly defused the situation, and we all went our separate ways, him, the girlfriend, and the still-furiously-barking little dog up the trail, me, and my screaming and terrified two year-old-boy down the trail to our car.
Ever since that day, now even years later, every time I pass that spot on the Leacock Trail, I remember that dog, and I find myself helplessly reliving that confrontation, and the melange of unpleasant emotions it dredges up. So you can see why the idea of selectively removing memories—that one in particular, but I can think of a few others—has some appeal.
Many of these memories, it seems to me, serve no useful purpose. They just exist like landmines hidden in my subconscious, waiting for me to unwittingly step on them. So why not get rid of them, if the technology someday exists? Well, there's always the argument advanced by Captain Kirk in Star Trek V: "I need my pain." In that otherwise-abominable film, Kirk argues it is our painful memories that define us, that make us who we are.
Maybe. But does that mean I have to remember that dog and my crying boy and my own rabid new-parent fight-or-flight response every time I want to hike the Leacock trail?
In any case, unless something miraculous happens, I suppose we may all wish to delete the memory of this disastrous 2013-2014 California winter, which seems on track to become the bunker-buster of what is now three poor winters in a row. In case you missed it, WeatherWest.com has a lengthy technical explanation for the drought. It makes for interesting but certainly not comforting reading.