February 24, 2024

Creating memories.

One of the most famous obiter dicta from the US Supreme Court is Justice Anthony Kennedy’s “mystery” passage in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

I’m sure that you will often hear it cited in the years ahead. It expresses perfectly the notion of freedom which underlies same-sex marriage and transgenderism, both of which will be on the boil for some time to come.

Kennedy’s eloquent words do sound appealing, but following them can lead us into an Alice in Wonderland world. For instance,  Giuliana Mazzoni, a professor of psychology at the University of Hull in the UK, has suggested that artificial recreation of happy memories may become the next big weapon against depression. Depression blocks access to happy memories, but it might be possible for depressed people to artificially recreate good memories to allow for positive thinking.

If this technology becomes available – a big if – it could have very profitable commercial applications. Elderly people whose lives have been unhappy could get a loving spouse and a successful career for a few bucks. A drug addict could remember a steady job and an unbroken marriage. Bad memories could be erased.

According to Justice Kennedy’s understanding of liberty this would be completely ethical. If freedom is the opportunity to reshape reality, artificial memories would be a good thing. But somehow this defies common sense. A freedom that allows us to escape into a fantasy world rather than confronting reality is a peculiar freedom. 

Michael Cook
Is freedom really the right to define reality?
memory altering drugs