Does Memory Modification Threaten Our Authenticity?

Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Suite 8, Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street, Oxford, OX1 1PT UK.
Neuroethics (Impact Factor: 1.31). 11/2011; 4(3):235-249. DOI: 10.1007/s12152-010-9090-4
Source: PubMed


One objection to enhancement technologies is that they might lead us to live inauthentic lives. Memory modification technologies (MMTs) raise this worry in a particularly acute manner. In this paper I describe four scenarios where the use of MMTs might be said to lead to an inauthentic life. I then undertake to justify that judgment. I review the main existing accounts of authenticity, and present my own version of what I call a "true self" account (intended as a complement, rather than a substitute, to existing accounts). I briefly describe current and prospective MMTs, distinguishing between memory enhancement and memory editing. Moving then to an assessment of the initial scenarios in the light of the accounts previously described, I argue that memory enhancement does not, by its very nature, raise serious concerns about authenticity. The main threat to authenticity posed by MMTs comes, I suggest, from memory editing. Rejecting as inadequate the worries about identity raised by the President's Council on Bioethics in Beyond Therapy, I argue instead that memory editing can cause us to live an inauthentic life in two main ways: first, by threatening its truthfulness, and secondly, by interfering with our disposition to respond in certain ways to some past events, when we have reasons to respond in such ways. This consideration allows us to justify the charge of inauthenticity in cases where existing accounts fail. It also gives us a significant moral reason not to use MMTs in ways that would lead to such an outcome.

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    • "Interfering with human memories, whether it is enhancing or dampening, raises a number of ethical concerns. Common objections against memory modification interventions are issues related to authenticity and identity (Erler 2011; Liao and Sandberg 2008; Merkel et al. 2007; "
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    • "By contrast, existentialist-minded positions hold that we should be authors of our life, actively shaping our future in light of attractive self-images, even if that implies radical departure from former personality traits (Cf. Bublitz and Merkel 2009; Erler 2011). The wrongness of " betraying " who one was in the quest of creating a more desirable future version of oneself can hardly be found in claims of the former personality against its successors. "
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    • "One of the central arguments against neuro-enhancement is that it threatens the authenticity of persons, or at least the authenticity of their minds' contents or their achievements. In other words, neuroenhancement has been seen to violate the ideal of being true to oneself (Kraemer 2010 and Erler 2010). 1 Even though the ideal of authenticity is quite attractive, it requires further clarification which is often provided by appeals for natural and unnatural (see for example Kraemer 2010 and Erler 2010). However, the terms 'natural' and 'unnatural' are ambiguous (Cooley and Goreham 2004, Siipi 2008, and Bergin 2009), and thus in need of clarification in order to be useful in authenticity discussion. "
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