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Scientists Are Working on a Pill to Erase Memories

If you could erase the worst memory of your life, would you? Scientists are working on a pill for that.

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(TMU) — McGill University associate professor of psychiatry, Dr. Alain Brunet, embarked on the monumental task of making 60 people forget something—and succeeded.

The 60 study participants shared the unpleasant experience of a traumatic end to a relationship—be it from infidelity or abandonment—that ultimately resulted in an “adjustment disorder.” To put it simply, these 60 people, and others like them, just need to forget.

According to the National Post:

“Over four to six sessions, volunteers read aloud from a typed script they had composed themselves—a first-person account of their breakup, with as many emotional details as possible—while under the influence of propranolol, a common and inexpensive blood pressure pill.”

The point being to reactivate those traumatic memories and all of the difficult emotions they include.

Participants were then asked questions during the sessionshow did you feel; how do you feel now; is your memory different from last weekto judge whether the strength of their memories were decreasing due to memory reactivation while taking propranolol, as the researchers posited, or not.

Full results of the study have been submitted to a journal, according to the National Post, however, the Post also reports that Dr. Brunet has been hesitant to discuss the results due to the sheer speed and success of erasing specific memories.

The 30 participants “just couldn’t believe that we could do so much in such a small amount of time,” Brunet explained, adding:

“They were able to turn the page. That’s what they would tell us—‘I feel like I’ve turned the page. I’m no longer obsessed by this person, or this relationship’.”

So why is Dr. Brunet so hesitant to share the news about his own breakthrough? Well, it turns out the idea of entirely wiping out unpleasant memories is quite unsettling to him. The ability, on the cellular level, to search for and destroy specific brain cells associated with specific memories is “not going to come from my lab,” Brunet explained.

Ethically speaking, Brunet says that “as long as only one choice exists right now, and it’s toning down a memory, we feel on very solid and comfortable ground,” rather than having the ability to erase such an integral aspect of what makes us who we are. However, others are working on what Dr. Brunet won’t.

Brunet asks, “if one day you had two options—I can tone down your memory, or I can remove it altogether, from your head, from your mind—what would you choose?”  Good question.

Such an ability may bring to mind imaginative, shocking, and sometimes horrifying fictional stories like that of Room 101 in George Orwell’s 1984, a room in which every citizen must visit to face their worst fears and phobias, in hopes of conquering itand ultimately accepting Big Brother—in the end. No longer is the reality of altering memories something left to science fiction.

“If you could erase the memory of the worst day of your life, would you,” Elizabeth Phelps and Stefan Hofmann ask in the journal Nature. And what constitutes a memory that is worth removing?

Through the theory of memory reconsolidation, we are inching closer and closer to the day when we may be able to edit, dull, or prevent memories from even becoming memories in the first place by simply taking a pill to block the synaptic changes needed in the brain immediately following, or even years after, an event is experienced.

According to Dr. Brunet, when we remember a memory, a two to five hour widow then opens in which that same memory becomes “lability.” It is during that time that a memory can be modified before being put back into storage in the brain.

So what does the medication, propranolol, do during this process? According to Brunet, it leaves that unlocked memory somewhat free by interfering with the proteins needed to put it back where it belongs.

“Memory is dynamic,” Boston University neuroscientist Steve Ramirez says.

When we recall a memory, we have the ability to add information to it, sort of like we are clicking “save as” on a text document or pulling out an old piece of art and adding a little color where it looked like something was missing. If we continue to do this over and over, we may end up with something that barely looks like the original event or first memory of that event.

Thankfully, for those who fear a nefarious usage of this tweaking of our memories, like something straight out of 1984, altering memories on a mass scale is easier said than done. Because of the way our brains work, there isn’t simply one area labeled “memory storage” where we file each memory as we make them and to where they neatly return after recall.

Instead, our memories are scattered throughout the brain. Even bits and pieces of the same memory are found in the different parts of the brain associated with processing what those things werethe memory of what we saw, what we heard, what we smelled, and how we felt are all stored in different places.

Of memory recall, Ramirez explained:

“Right now, there are a lot of memories that are asleep in your brain. If I asked you, ‘what did you do last night?’, that memory just woke up. How did that happen? You just did that effortlessly in, like, 500 milliseconds. And yet we don’t know how that process works.”

So we certainly can’t be on the verge of completely erasing memories if we don’t even know how they work in the first place, can we?

Well, thanks to Ramirez, some other researches, and a whole lot of mice, we’re getting closer to understanding, and therefore altering, that process. As previously reported by the Mind Unleashed, these researchers basically figured out how to implant memories into mice by reverse engineering a memory.

According to the research, “memory is coded by patterns of neural activity in distinct circuits. Therefore, it should be possible to reverse engineer a memory by artificially creating these patterns of activity in the absence of a sensory experience.”

The goal here, according to Ramirez, is to overwrite the bad memories with good ones. “In depression, there is a bias toward negative thinking,” Ramirez said. “Maybe we need to tackle these kinds of disorders from all angles,” instead of with the same medication we’ve been using for years, with little advancement since the 1970s.

Even still, simply the talk of altering such a big part of what makes us us is understandably unsettling. While the idea has clear and obvious clinical applications, it takes only a bit of imagination to think where advancements like this could lead us if they fall into the wrong hands. And what if we can’t remember whose hands this power fell into?

By Emma Fiala | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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News

Chinese Military Satellite Smashed by Russian Rocket in “Major Confirmed Orbital Collision”

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In an incident that is likely illustrative of things to come, Chinese military satellite 1-02 was smashed after it appears to have collided into the debris from a disintegrating Russian rocket.

The collision, which occurred earlier this year, shows the increasing danger of space junk such as satellite parts and other miscellaneous jetsam littering the Earth’s orbit. An estimated 8,000 metric tons of space debris pose the risk of destroying functional equipment such as weather forecasting systems, telecoms and GPS systems – and even manned space travel missions – if the problem isn’t reined in.

The fate of the Chinese satellite was uncovered by Harvard astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.

The breakup of Yunhai 1-02 was initially reported by the U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS). However, it wasn’t until recently that McDowell found out what caused the breakup.

The astrophysicist soon found that it was destroyed by space junk that originated from a Russian Zenit-2 rocket that had launched a spy satellite in 1996. On Aug. 14, McDowell found a strange entry in a database on Space-Track.org: “Collided with satellite.”

 “This is a new kind of comment entry — haven’t seen such a comment for any other satellites before,” McDowell tweeted.

“A quick analysis of the TLEs show that Yunhai 1-02 (44547) and [the debris object] passed within 1 km of each other (so within the uncertainty of the TLEs) at 0741 UTC Mar 18, exactly when 18SPCS reports Yunhai broke up,” he added, noting that this “looks to be the first major confirmed orbital collision in a decade.”

However, the Yunhai satellite still remains functional and is transmitting radio signals, notes Space.com.

The incident shows the growing likelihood of such collisions in the high-traffic, littered near-Earth orbital zone.

“Collisions are proportional to the square of the number of things in orbit,” McDowell explained. “That is to say, if you have 10 times as many satellites, you’re going to get 100 times as many collisions.”

He added: “So, as the traffic density goes up, collisions are going to go from being a minor constituent of the space junk problem to being the major constituent. That’s just math.”

A worst-case scenario of such collisions is known as the “Kessler Syndrome,” and describes the possibility of one collision setting in motion a chain of collisions. Such a disaster was the premise of the 2013 film “Gravity.”

One hopes that things don’t reach that point.

In the meantime, however, there have been a number of initiatives meant to tackle the growing problem of space debris, such as the ELSA-d spacecraft launched in a demonstration mission earlier this year.

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News

Boston Dynamics Drops New Video Of 5-Foot Atlas Humanoid Robot Effortlessly Doing Parkour

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Robot maker Boston Dynamics has released new video of its two-legged Atlas robot effortlessly completing a parkour obstacle course, offering a new display of its humanoid machines’ unsettling repertoire.

In the video, a pair of Atlas robots can be seen leaping over large gaps, vaulting beams, and even performing backflips. The robot can even be seen jumping over a board while using its arm to remain steady.

While the display seems like anything but “free” running – as the original developers of parkour had envisioned – the routine does seem like an impressive, if terrifying, display of effective coding that took months to perfect, according to the Hyundai-owned robotics firm.

“It’s not the robot just magically deciding to do parkour, it’s kind of a choreographed routine, much like a skateboard video or a parkour video,” said Atlas control lead Benjamin Stephens.

See for yourself:

Unlike its robotic dog Spot, which controversially hit New York City streets last year before being pulled, Atlas isn’t a production robot. Instead, it’s a research model meant to see how far the limits of robotics can be pushed.

In the past, Boston Dynamics has displayed the robot’s feats with videos of Atlas jogging and even busting out some cool dance moves.

Team lead Scott Kuindersma said in a statement that in about two decades, we can expect to coexist with robots that move “with grace, reliability, and work alongside humans to enrich our lives.”

Until then, some of us will continue to reserve our right to feel a bit queasy about the prospect of people being chased down by these skilled free-running (and dancing) machines.

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Environment

South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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