October 25, 2013
Subjective memory means that we sometimes remember events a little differently  than they actually happened. Now, it seems, entirely false memories can be insinuated into the brain and the organ can’t tell the difference between a ‘real’ memory and a ‘fake’ one.
We all have little memory hiccups where something escapes us entirely, or we embellish the events of the past in order to suite our own personal motivations. It’s simply human nature, but now with new research conducted by Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at MIT  and senior author of a paper which was recently published in Science , scientists can now plant false memories in the brain (though so far, it reportedly has only been done to mice). And many of the neurological traces of the memories are exactly the same as those of ‘real’ memories.
“Whether it’s a false or genuine memory, the brain’s neural mechanism underlying the recall of the memory is the same,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and senior author of a paper describing the findings  in the July 25 edition of Science.
The scientist just found in another study last year  that memories are stored in networks of neurons that form tree-like branches and associated connections for every single experience we have. The memory traces created by these neuronal networks are called engrams. There are cells that can be traced to show the infrastructure of an engram for a specific memory, and the cells react in ways that scientists can measure utilizing a technology called optogenetics. In the past, scientists believed that episodal memories were stored in the brain’s temporal lobes, but Tonegawa has proven they are stored in the hippocampus .
As with all scientific discoveries, it is the ways in which this newly found information is utilized that should be of concern or celebration. While we could plant positive memories in the brain to help people overcome truly experienced past trauma, in the wrong hands, falsely implanted memories could be utilized to control public opinion and even mass behavior. The CIA already uses a program called MK Ultra  to do just that.
But of course there is the question: Should this discovery be used at all, even if it’s for good?
This post originally appeared at Natural Society