The brain is an amazing thing; hypnosis can block pain. There are plenty of hypnosis weight-loss clinics for helping people to lose weight and to quit smoking. As we get more detailed knowledge of the brain, it will become a trivial thing to improve one’s willpower. Instead of procrastinating, we’ll be able to tell ourselves to do something and become compulsive about doing it. No more late homework!
NPR’s science Friday has several programs on memory; in one recent one (that I can’t find), they explained that memories are recreated every time we remember them, with an accompanying degradation of the memory. Details we don’t think are important are discarded and filled with plausible reconstructions; the sudden recall of something you haven’t thought of for twenty years is far closer to the actual event than a memory that you think about all the time. It’s also easy to introduce fake memories, because the brain fills in plausible details in exactly the same way.
They know this because of recent experiments using drugs that interfere with the formation of memory: rather than have the patients try to learn something, and watch how they forget it, they had them try to remember something, which they proceeded to forget even after the drug wore off. Humans now have the abillity to selectively erase conscious memories.
There’s another form of memory that’s subconscious, of habits and feelings acquired through repetition. This seems to be a deeper, more protected form of memory. Clive Wearing, who was once a musicologist, contracted encephalitis, which damaged his hippocampus. He has a seven-second memory. He’s constantly feeling as if he’s just awoken from a dream, having no idea where he is or what has happened to him for the past twenty years. But he can still direct his choir perfectly and fills with joy every time he sees his wife.
It’s probable that we’ll be able to erase or modify those memories in the near future, too.
We admire people who do things despite pain. Words like courage, tenacity, and kindness all apply to enduring in the presence of pain. The atonement is the prototype here: love overcoming pain.
The whole concept of mortality in scripture is predicated on the idea that pain is necessary for progression; it separates souls like a chromatograph separates particle sizes. People who are physically strong become so by exercising and enduring pain. Smart people typically work hard to become so. Barbie was right: math is hard–but at the moment there’s no other way to become so.
If we can remove the memory of pain and decide to remove the pain that stands between us and some desired end, will there be any virtue in the accomplishment? Skousen’s argument for the purpose of the pain in the atonement was to work on the compassion of intelligences. Where does compassion go when we can forget the hurt at will?