At Slate, the famous memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus proposes that implanting false memories could change our behavior for the better:
AG: Could false memories be used for therapeutic purposes—like reducing alcohol consumption? EL: Absolutely, yes. I’ve had people say to me, do you think you could cure all kinds of problems with the false-memory technique? I hope other people will give it a try.
It’s hard to imagine how this would be implemented: If somebody signs off on having a false memory implanted, then won’t it be harder for them to accept that memory as factual?
It’s analogous to the problem of how to harness the power of the placebo effect. Doctors could be instructed to try a placebo before a “real” treatment, in cases where the life of the patient is not at stake and the potential benefits outweigh the costs. But the patient would have to sign off on this, presumably reducing the effectiveness. Maybe health insurers could offer patients the option of “pre-clearing” the use of placebos (with a lower premium?)
It seems extremely inefficient that our whole system of Western medicine forbids providers from harnessing one of the most powerful natural healing mechanisms.
But allowing providers to practice deception is also fraught with peril!