Scientists create ‘Total Recall’-like short term memories

In Philip K. Dick’s masterful short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” which was later adapted as “Total Recall” (twice), a company called REKAL Inc. is able to implant memories into people. The main character, Douglas Quail (Douglas Quaid in Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation), can’t afford a trip to Mars so he buys the memory at a fraction of the price. And so begins his adventure.

Researchers Ben W. Strowbridge, PhD, Professor of Neurosciences and Physiology/Biophysics, and Robert A. Hyde, a fourth year MD/PhD student in the neurosciences graduate program at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, may not have invented the method of memory implantation as PKD envisioned it, but they did create short-term memories in rodent brain tissue.

Stowbridge and Hyde’s study, entitled “Mnemonic Representations of Transient Stimuli and Temporal Sequences in Rodent Hippocampus In Vitro,” investigated the nature of short term memory and not the creation of memories. Even so, the ten-second+ created memories are pretty marvelous. (The study is set for publication in the October issue of Nature Neuroscience, and is now available online.)

 “This is the first time anyone has found a way to store information over seconds about both temporal sequences and stimulus patterns directly in brain tissue,” says Dr. Strowbridge. “This paves the way for future research to identify the specific brain circuits that allow us to form short-term memories.”

“The type of activity we triggered in isolated brain sections was similar to what other researchers have demonstrated in monkeys taught to perform short-term memory tasks,” says Mr. Hyde. “Both types of memory-related activity changes typically lasted for 5-10 seconds.”

The two researchers used isolated rodent brain tissue to stimulate four neural pathways in the hippocampus, the region of the brain critical to short-term and long-term memory formation. As with much of memory research, it could prove invaluable to better understanding and treating Alzheimer’s Disease.

But one can’t help wondering—could con men, governments, corporations, etc., hack our brains to steal our thoughts, then implant new memories to mask the theft?