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Remember how there’s a spell in the Harry Potter novels that allows you to erase someone else’s memories (I think you’re supposed to say “obliviate” when you cast it)? Well, it turns out that, once again, boring old Science has proved itself capable of replicating the effects of Magic. To some extent, anyway.

You may have heard of electroshock therapy; and you probably pictured something like this when you did hear of it:

Electroconvulsive Therapy - Frankenstein's legacy?

But the truth is, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), as it’s known today, isn’t really that dramatic, and usually doesn’t require a murderously deranged doctor.

ECT is a psychiatric treatment that’s used to relieve the effects of some kinds of mental illnesses (including, prominently, severe depression). As far as I can tell, ECT is almost as simple as it looks: you hook up a few wires and induce a few seizures by passing electric currents through the patient’s brain. But before you let your imagination run away with you, note that the patient is under general anesthesia, is given muscle relaxants to prevent major convulsions, and the currents are usually tiny.

Although it’s great that people often feel a lot better after ECT, it’s a bit scary to think that no one knows why or how it works. We do know, of course, that electrical currents passing along neurons are part of the foundation of how the brain works; but that doesn’t explain why a sudden shock to a generalized area of the brain should relieve a wide variety of symptoms.

Anyway, here’s the interesting thing: experiments with patients who’ve received ECT have found that they often incur amnesia after the therapy, sometimes forgetting things as far back as a few years. This would be horrible if not for the fact that this kind of severe amnesia following ECT is almost always temporary – the lost memories usually do return in a few days or weeks (again, how this might happen is a mystery).

However, there are a few memories that usually do not return: those of events immediately before and after the administering of the ECT. And that’s what you use as a Memory Charm. This could, of course, be of immense practical value. For instance, so long as you’re quick about it, you actually can get that certain someone to forget something extremely embarrassing that you do in front of him/her.

Now if only we could fit ECT apparatus into a little wand-shaped thingy…

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2 Comments

  1. that’ll be scary is everyone could carry one of those around, imagine being shocked everyday.

    • Hmm, true, it’d be scary if _everyone_ had one. But it might be a whole lot of fun for you if _you_ were the only person who had one! 😛


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  1. […] wise to exercise a great deal of caution in using treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (see Messing With Memory) that are essentially mysterious to even the people administering them. But, of course, not many […]

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