PBS's long-running series "Nova" has been bringing the good word from the world of science since the 1970s. I have fond memories of tuning in as a kid, twisting the channel dial on our family's cathode-ray, cabinet-style television. (Younger readers may need to look up several of these terms.)
Nova's latest documentary premieres this week in the U.S., and it's a keeper. Called "Memory Hackers," the one-hour doc chronicles cutting-edge research into the nature of human memory.
Memory 10 Times More Massive Than Thought
The documentary profiles several different research programs in which scientists manipulate, suppress or even implant false memories in the human brain. It sounds like science fiction, but emerging techniques in neurochemistry, psychology and computer science are intersecting to create some unprecedented techniques.
For instance, "Nova" profiles the case of 12-year-old Jake Hausler, who has been diagnosed with the exceedingly rare brain condition known as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). Jake can recall in detail nearly everything he has experienced since age 8, but his brain lacks the capacity to distinguish important memories from trivial ones.
Researchers are looking into various memory suppression techniques to help Jake, as well as those who suffer from afflictions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Women With Alzheimer's Face Faster Decline Than Men
The filmmakers also speak to a psychology researcher who has designed systems to implant false memories in people. Julia Shaw, psychology professor at London South Bank University, has even successfully convinced people that they've committed crimes that never took place.
There are also some interesting details on specific medications which can manipulate the negative memories that cause irrational phobias. So I could pop a pill and stop being afraid of androids? Count me in.
You can check out the trailer below, or watch the full version for free online at the "Nova" web site.