Do you want to block traumatic memories from scarring your mind? Perhaps you do, but would you be happy if someone else did it for you? Or how about receiving marketing messages beamed directly at you in hypersonic waves? Mind control is getting smarter by the minute, says Richard Glen Boire, co-founder of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics in California. And, as he told Liz Else, we ain't seen nothing yet...
Should I be worried?
Freedom of thought is the basis of a lot of our existing constitutional rights in the US, as in many countries. With the burgeoning of neurosciences and the neurotechnologies they give rise to, we can see great opportunities but also great perils, because the law on freedom of thought is so underdeveloped. It is the most important of all legal freedoms, but the least articulated. Here at the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE) in Davis, California, we try to provide legal theory and principles to guide courts, policy makers and civil liberty experts.
What kind of neurotechnologies are there?
On the near horizon are a slew of new pharmaceuticals we call memory management drugs. Some of these aim to improve memory safely. Others are designed to help dim or to erase the memories that haunt people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
But right now?
Some of these drugs are available now. Take a drug like propranolol, a beta blocker used to control high blood pressure. It was found that people who take this drug within six hours or so of a traumatic event have a reduced recall of that event. People are talking about giving propranolol to emergency response teams before they go into horrific scenes such as plane crashes. Others have talked about giving it to soldiers after a gruesome battle.
Is propranolol really being used in that way?
Well, it has been tested in emergency rooms. In 2002, there was a study of the effect of propranolol on car accident victims in emergency rooms. It found that one month later, patients who received propranolol had fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than patients who suffered similar injuries but were given placebos rather than the drug.
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