Dr. Amy Milton is an Associate Professor in Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge and the Ferreras-Willetts Fellow in Neuroscience at Downing College Cambridge. Her research focuses on understanding how memories persist and become updated in the brain, with the aim of using this knowledge to develop new forms of treatment for mental health disorders based on maladaptive emotional memories. She's trying to understand the conditions under which emotional memories become unstable, particularly those contributing to post traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction.
We talked in the middle of April 2022. When I heard about Amy's research and watched her TED Talk about editing memories, I thought this was something out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's not often that you encounter treatment with such transformative results and such promise, and at the same time, such scary potential. Despite her very technical subject, Amy was easy to talk to and I appreciated the care she took in explaining her research and its implications to a general audience.
In this conversation we talk about:
- How from a very early age, she was fascinated with the gap between what people intended to do and what they ended up doing, growing up with parents who were smokers.
- Editing memories, and how new information can be incorporated and the memories themselves disrupted.
- Studying addiction and the connection between addiction and memory, and how disrupting certain memories can prevent relapse.
- Different types of memories — implicit memories and explicit memories, episodic memories, emotional memories, habits.
- What does the smell of baking bread have to do with memory's role in addiction?
- What can we do to fight addiction?
- The role of memories in phobias and PTSD.
- Exposure therapy and how it can get better with memory modification.
- The use of psychedelics in therapy and in addiction, and how understanding the memory component of that can help us understand, potentially, psychedelics better.
- Virtual reality exposure.
- And the ethical considerations of modifying someone's memory, whether it be through overuse, abuse, or a tyranny where individual rights are not a consideration.
This is one of a dozen or so weekly conversations we already have lined up for you with thinkers, designers, makers, authors, entrepreneurs, and investors who are working to change our world for the better. So follow this podcast on your favorite podcast app, or head over to remakepod.org to subscribe.
And now, let's jump right in with Dr. Amy Milton.
[4:54] Life in the Present
[6:29] Early Childhood Lessons
[9:06] A Path to Studying Memory
[11:33] Taxonomy of Memory
[17:10] The Difference Between a Habit and a Non-Habit
[20:09] Being Mindful of Habits
[23:46] Living with an Understanding of Memory
[26:55] Maladaptive Memories
[32:55] Extinction Learning and PTSD
[37:18] Edit Mode
[49:59] The Ethics of Editing Memories
[57:17] Alternative Ways of Dealing with Trauma
[1:02:23] A Short Sermon
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