>New information on the science of memory may one day finally tell me why I have a hard time remembering names and even faces, but I’ll store a patient’s potassium level without even trying. As with all science research, we’ll have to decide whether and why the information we discover matters and how to use it.
Last night’s post was on the bioethics questions in a television show dealing with a patient who asked for help forgetting a trauma – actually, the emotional memories, not the facts. A wide range of articles on memory research is the subject of yesterday’s post at Bioethics.net. There are posts to articles and blog entries on old and new information on drugs that affect memory, and disorders of memory.
That post contains a link to this New York Times article (free registration required) on the significance of sleep and memories. (I love the title, “An Active, Purposeful Machine That Comes Out at Night to Play.”) The same session at the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities conference that dealt with blunting the emotional memory of trauma also touched on the ethics of new medications that enable people to sleep less. The question asked was whether avoiding the need for sleep would allow time for more worthy pursuits – the question and answer period focused on what to consider a “worthy” activity. According to the NYT article, the question should be what is lost.
As is too often the case, science gives us some of the answers to our questions (those “power naps” are probably good for dealing with facts and later sleep appears to be useful for detecting patterns) and technology or means (propranolol, propofol, Provigil, etc.) to manipulate ourselves and our behavior, before we come to a consensus on the ethics – or even the ethical principles that apply – of using our knowledge.
The old saying “let’s sleep on it” may have some measurable truth – and a lot of wisdom, after all.