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Neuroscientists plant false memories in the brain

The phenomenon of false memory has been well-documented: In many court cases, defendants have been found guilty based on testimony from witnesses and victims who were sure of their recollections, but DNA evidence later overturned the conviction.

In a step toward understanding how these faulty memories arise, MIT neuroscientists have shown that they can plant false memories in the brains of mice. They also found that many of the neurological traces of these memories are identical in nature to those of authentic memories.

“Whether it’s a false or genuine memory, the brain’s neural mechanism underlying the recall of the memory is the same,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and senior author of a paper describing the findings in the July 25 edition of Science.

Anne Trafton, MIT News Office, July 2013

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VO, starts, on black.

My uncle Peter, now retired, was a micro electronics engineer and one of the first graduating class to get an MSc in the subject in the UK.

Peter was always, as still is, a real gadget enthusiast. This love of technology was nurtured, as it was for many men growing up in the 1950s, with the help of the comic The Eagle and its weekly combination of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future and detailed educational illustrations of modern machinery.

He and his twin brother, my father Iain, would build crystal sets in their bedroom, running lengthy aerials out of their window and across to the garage at the end of the garden. While Iain, the less academic twin who was also less inclined to travel, stayed at home and became an apprentice turner, Peter’s career had took a marginally more circuitous route, via various universities and institutes, out of Glasgow, around the UK and included a brief stint at MIT. By 1980 he found himself back in Scotland, in a flat in East Kilbride, a New Town just a few miles from the family home, and working in the research and development department of electronics giant Motorola Ltd..

Family lore declares Peter’s greatest professional achievement to be the design of a microchip that played a vital tech role within the early BSkyB satellite television receiver. In 2001 Peter wrote the application note for AN494, an HC11-controlled multiband RDS radio.

To be honest, Peter’s professional achievements are not clearly understood by his family.

An early adopter before the term had been invented, Peter was the first person I knew to own a video camera, a Sony Betamax HVC-400P. And he made family gatherings bearable for himself by making a habit of taping the proceedings, taking the role of technical director and archivist.

Of course, he was the only person we knew who was in a position to record an episode of the BBC TV programme Horizon in 1981, in which I was filmed being hypnotized by my dentist.

Film of drill and cotton wool – on repeat.


The hypnosis went like this. Dentist Dr. George W. Fairfull Smith attached 4 balls of cotton wool onto the length of rotary dental drill. These, he said, were three little rabbits, being chased by a hungry fox. Needing a place to hide, the rabbits wondered if I would allow him to drill a hole in my tooth, into which they would pop? Dr. Fairfull Smith could then plug that dental burrow quickly, before the fox had a chance to catch up with them. I agreed. After watching the cotton balls/rabbits go round and round for a spell, the filling was in place and I was none the worse for it, the whole thing filmed for posterity by a BBC camera crew. The event even gets a mention in the academic press:


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‘The techniques of the late Fairfull Smith for inducing hypnosis in children in the dental chair and preventing the development of anxiety in the situation are becoming well known, and one such session with a little girl was filmed and presented on BBC television in September 1981.’

Hypnosis in Therapy by H.B. Gibson and Michael Heap, Psychology Press, 1991, p161.

BACK TO DRILL ROTATING – AND VOIGHT KAMPFT MACHINE? MY EYES FOLLOWING the cotton? Should I be in this so early – if I am, there’s less chance viewer will think this is a lie. Is that a bad thing?


Gibson and Heap go onto say ‘that the case of Fairfull Smith’s treatment of children with hypnosis described above was entirely proper and within his professional competence’ and that Fairfull Smith was employing the ancient method of inducing hypnosis pioneered by Abbé Faria (1756-1819).

Faria was a Goan Catholic monk and a pioneer of the scientific study of hypnotism, following on from the work of Franz Mesmer. Unlike Mesmer, who claimed that hypnosis was mediated by “animal magnetism“, Faria understood that it worked purely by the power of suggestion.


The power of suggestion is at the centre of memory distortion and false memory creation as outlined by Elizabeth Loftus 
of the University of Washington, Psychology Department in her 1996 paper of the same name. Typically, the therapeutic process employed by psychiatrists, with the aim of excavating “repressed” memories, involves invasive techniques such as age regression, guided visualization, trance writing and hypnosis.

Physiatrist Philip Coons has explicitly cautioned that pseudomemories can result from “suggestion, social contagion, hypnosis, misdiagnosis, and the misapplication of hypnosis, dreamwork, or regressive therapies.”

VO continues:

On a visit to Peter’s flat in 1980, I admired his two new bottles of bubble bath. One in the shape of The Pink Panther, the other, Bugs Bunny. Incredibly generously I remember thinking even at the time, he let me pick one to take home.

I chose the rabbit.


In 1981, a friend of Peter’s was involved in some post-production work for the Ladd Company, a British production company who were, amongst other things, working on a film by a British director who had made the move from advertising to Hollywood, with a film about an Alien. The film he was making was a sci-fi film set in a dystopian near future Los Angeles. Early reports were that no one seemed particularly excited about the film.

Anyway, Peter’s friend, who was working on some of the background effects for the film, needed some video footage and quick, so Peter passed him the Betamax tape of my Horizon dentist trip. The tape was to be used as temporary stand-in footage, before Ridley Scott’s team, lead by Doug Turnbull, put in the specially filmed set pieces at a later stage of the post-production process. I never asked Peter what he thought about this at the time, but I don’t think he imagined that his lending of the hypnosis footage would have the result that it did.

By some chance, or l can only presume by choice, a small section of Peter’s recorded footage survived into the final theatre release of the film in 1981.

That’s how I ended up in Blade Runner.


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Blade Runner is a 1982 American dystopian science fiction thriller film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos. The screenplay, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, is loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.



In 1968, science fiction author Philip K. Dick published the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel that would act as the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Philip K. Dick, just like my Uncle Peter, had a twin. A sister called Jane, who died weeks after their birth and whose death remained a conspicuous influence on him personally and, by extension, on his life’s work.

The absence of Jane from his life, and that fact that she was in essence his other half, led Dick to interrogate notions of identity and doubling, memory and fakery, throughout his career. A quick glance at his back catalogue throws up titles such as Counter-Clock World, The Simulacra and the short story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale. This later became the 1990 Hollywood blockbuster Total Recall, staring everyone’s favourite republican meathead Arnold Schwarzeneger. In 2012 the film was re-made, this time staring the limp playboy, Colin Farrell.


Total Recall is a 1990 American dystopian science fiction action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox. It is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale“.



Total Recall is a 2012 American dystopian science fiction action film remake of the 1990 film of the same name, which was in turn loosely based on the 1966 short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. The film centers upon an ordinary factory worker who accidentally discovers that his current life is a fabrication predicated upon false memories implanted into his brain by the government.



VO: When asked about his youth by a journalist, Philip K. Dick would tell this story about Mark Twain:

TEXT SLIDE or voiced by a man?

‘Asked about his youth by a journalist, Twain told the man about his twin brother, Peter. He and Peter looked so much alike as babies that they had different-coloured ribbons put on them so people could tell them apart. One day, they were left alone in the bath and one of them drowned. The ribbons having come undone, no one knew which twin had died.


VO, me?:

‘Some think it was Peter,’ Twain said, ‘some think it was me.’’



Philip K. Dick generated a huge amount of material during the 1950s and 1960s, writing nearly a hundred short stories and over 20 novels during this period, including “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.

Dick’s now notorious drug use sidetracked his career in the early 1970s and his final years were haunted by what he considered to be a visitation from God. In the form of a pendant.

Dick’s final novels tend to deal with the problematics associated with this visitation. In 1981, while I was being hypnotized by the dentist, Philip K. Dick was writing VALIS in which the eponymous entity is a God-like machine that makes contact with a hopelessly schizophrenic, possibly drug-addled and certainly mixed-up science fiction writer called Philip K. Dick.

Dick was never especially financially successful as a writer, but towards the end of his life, he achieved a measure of financial stability, partly due to the money he received from the producers of Blade Runner for the rights to his novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”.

On October 11th 1981, Dick wrote to Jeff Walker, executive of the Ladd Company, saying his life and creative work was justified and completed by Blade Runner. He continued:


“This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after [watching] the segment I found my normal present-day ‘reality’ pallid by comparison.”


Before the film premiered, Dick died of a heart attack. Or a stroke. Or a stroke caused by a heart attack. Reports differ.

When Philip K. Dick died, his father Joseph, took his son’s ashes to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where they were buried next to his twin sister Jane, whose tombstone had been inscribed with both their names when she had died, 53 years earlier.


Overlay K and A in turn


By the way, the ‘K’ in Philip K. Dick stands for Kindred.

The ‘A’ in Jane A. Topping stands for Amnesia. Don’t ask.

Dick’s stories typically focus on the fragile nature of what is “real” and the construction of personal identity, often via memories. In many of his works, the main character slowly discovers that their everyday world is actually an illusion constructed by powerful external entities, political conspiracies, or simply from the vicissitudes of an unreliable narrator.

In Blade Runner, characters are either driven by their suspicion of personal memory, or are defined by their blind faith in the interior self.

TEXT SLIDE (over mice?):

“All of his work starts with the basic assumption that there cannot be one, single, objective reality. Everything is a matter of perception.”

Platt, Charles (1980). Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction. Berkley Publishing

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So, anyway. In Blade Runner there’s just a glimpse of my 10 year old face on a huge digital billboard that takes up the side of an entire building. They’re meant to be 75 stories high. Well, it’s more than a glimpse actually. For 2 or 3 seconds you can see me quite clearly.

I’m just after one of those Geisha women pops a pill or smokes a cigarette, I forget which. I’m after one of those Geisha women smiles.


Blade Runner (1982) depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in November 2019 in which genetically engineered organic robots called replicants are manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation. Their use on Earth is banned. Replicants who defy the ban and return to Earth are hunted down and “retired” by police special operatives known as “Blade Runners”.


There are 7 recognised different versions of Blade Runner, not including the many fan-edits you can find on the net. The first one I saw was the European cut on VHS Warner Home Video. I was 18. It had been 8 years since I had been hypnotized by my dentist, and until seeing the film in 1989, I really had no inkling that I was in Blade Runner at all. If Peter had mentioned it, I didn’t remember.

Fans of the film are often fanatical and most have an encyclopedic knowledge of the film, in all of its many forms. For instance, here is an outline of the unique aspects of the rarely-seen Denver/Dallas/U.K. Sneak Preview cut of the film from 1982, as found online:

Insert here – at speed!


The relationship of sight and memory is referenced throughout Blade Runner. Because of this, plot holes in the film, inconsistencies apparent across the multiple versions of the film and even mistakes of the filmmaking process can be interpreted as further tests of the audiences’ visual memory.

Perhaps this is one reason why the film can withstand multiple viewings.

Blade Runner is never quite as you remember it.

Blade Runner aficionados are acutely aware of the many differences, often contradictory, between versions. One of the most famous is the plot hole created by the omission of the 6th replicant, the character ‘Jane’.

Actress Stacey Nelkin was cast in the part of ‘Jane’ but the character was cut from the film early on in principal photography due to budget constraints. This created speculation amongst fans that Deckard was a replicant, with implanted false memories. In the 2007 Final Cut, Captain Bryant’s dialog was altered, so he now mentions two Replicants killed by an electrical field, rather than just one, as in the 1982 U.S. theatrical version.

FILM CLIPS OF THESE 2 moments here.

There are loads of gossipy facts and folklore about the film, most of which are actually confirmed by the lengthy 2007 documentary Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner. For instance, that Harrison Ford and Sean Young did not get along, that the American crew hated Ridley Scott and had t-shirts printed saying so and that there is a ‘blade runner curse’.

The Blade Runner curse is said to have affected the companies whose logos were displayed prominently as product placements in the city-scape. While they were market leaders at the time, Atari, Bell and Pan Am experienced setbacks after the film’s release. The Coca-Cola Company suffered losses during its failed introduction of New Coke in 1985, but of course, it soon regained its market share.

Since I appear in Blade Runner, on the same kind of digital billboard as these companies, it occurs that I may be cursed. That my life is essentially an elaborate and convoluted attempt to maintain early gains in my personal market share.

FOOTAGE OF HADES HERE – acts as punctuation.


Found or existing footage is used throughout Blade Runner, not just the shot from my dental hypnosis. For instance:

The explosions seen in the opening shot, the view over Hades, were originally shot for the 1970 Antonioni film Zabriskie Point, but never used.

The imagery of the eye as recorded by the Voight-Kampff machine was pre-existing footage owned by a London-based technical company.

And perhaps most famously, the ‘happy ending’ footage of the green landscape into which Deckard and Rachel drive in the original theatre release of the film, was left over from the opening shot of Kubrick’s The Shining.

VISUAL: the happy ending

VO, over this:

In 1989, when we were both 17 and I had learnt to drive, Ross, my best friend and boyfriend, and I took a trip north.

At a seaside village on the west coast of Scotland, we visited a jumble sale in the church hall, at which I failed to buy a copy of the first UK edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for 10 pence. Thinking back to that moment I can remember that I simply couldn’t be bothered carrying it around.

On the same trip, though not the same day, Ross bought a real mole skin from a pile of tiny skins in a box, literally under the counter in a village shop. It looked like a miniature, elegant rug for a dolls’ house.



The replicant Rachael, played by Sean Young, is an experiment of Eldon Tyrell. Tyrell believes that implanting replicants with memories will create a cushion which will allow for emotional development, and ultimately make them more controllable.

Rachael has the implanted memories of Tyrell’s mice.

No sorry. I mean, Tyrell’s niece.


25, 20 second adverts where originally filmed to flesh out the backdrop of 2019 LA, to give the Blade Runner world what Ridley Scott describes neatly as texture. These ads were of women in geisha dress and makeup, popping pills, smoking, smiling and allegedly engaging in many other activities, which didn’t make it to the final cut of the film. The texture that was required by Scott, an ex-art director, was that advertising was everywhere, that the landscape was a collage of everything and, in fact, that the advertising media was not just transmitting to, but also, probably, monitoring the citizens of LA.

It makes sense that the downtrodden, hopeless and powerless citizens left on a dying Earth would crave an idealized past. The rarified and commodified role of the Geisha, offering the promise of exclusive entertainment, would no doubt shift units. She is exclusive, esoteric and above all, in this retro-fitted, dump of a eradiated planet, pure.


So where does my image fit into this texture? The moment when the adverts stop and my image begins, is that when we see the real face of Scott’s corporate fascism? If I were an evil multinational, though I was keen to disabuse the population of that fact, my front of house image might very well be an innocent, moon-faced, blonde child. Or is Scott using my image to hold a mirror to the repressed population of near future LA? Maybe they are all hypnotized children too.



In the world of multinational capitalism (let alone interplanetary capitalism), the double becomes banal.


“the multiplication of reflecting surfaces, mirrors and plate glass in modern architecture enhances the self-consciousness of society, the sight of one’s own image ceases to harbinger death or trigger a devastating flash of self-knowledge but pops up fleetingly and irritatingly wherever one walks, a slow seepage of identity.”

Paul Coates, The Double and the Other: Identity As Ideology in Post-Romantic Fiction 1988, Palgrave Macmillan.


Really? How depressing.


VO – Interrupt self with ‘it’s just here’, ‘no right here’ etc.

My appearance, however briefly, in Blade Runner was of tremendous use to me as I got a little older and I was able to use the fact that I was in the film to impress and even seduce men. Though to be fair, when you are an 18 year old woman and you have a heterosexual man in your bedroom, drinking cheap red wine and watching dystopian fiction that includes multiple female stereotypes such as a ‘ basic pleasure model’ who attempts to kill a man with her thighs, you’re probably onto a winner anyway.

When I was 18 years old, I hadn’t achieved anything of particular note, and neither had any of my friends. Our lives, we felt, were just beginning and our participation in the world was, we hoped, at a very early stage. Getting to university had been the only goal that we had ever really had. Now we were there, we spent most of our time wondering and dreaming about what would be next, vaguely anxious that our greatest achievement might already be behind us. The Blade Runner Jane proved that I was already part of a far wider culture and I was a commodity of that culture even. I was legitimised, and in pretty impressive style too.


Anyway, I can tell you that being in Blade Runner is anything but banal. I am a supporting character, literally part of the scenery. I am texture.

In Blade Runner, my double doesn’t just resemble me, she IS me, with all the same surface features and gestures and mannerisms. She is (again, almost literally) a projection of me into the future, or at least an imagined future that appears to be portentous, accurate.

Back in 1989, seeing Blade Runner for the first time and seeing myself for the first time in it, my premature arrival in the future took all the anxiety out of waiting and wondering about the future in general and my personal destiny in particular. Relax Jane, this future Jane said. Here you are, if not exactly alive and well, at least appearing to be alive and well and in 2000 and 19 LA.


No matter what happens now, however you may fail in the future, you will always be in Blade Runner.



In VALIS, Philip K. Dick describes a universe that operates according to the laws of phylogenic memory; that every person carries in their body an entire memory of the species.

In Aliens and Anorexia, American author and filmmaker Chris Kraus wonders if it is a common genetic memory, a biology shared by all animals within a species, that makes it possible to remember things that haven’t actually happened.



See? There it is.

Stop. Go back. Watch it again.


My image flickers on and off so quickly – I am a smiling, western, blond, Caucasian, child. Although I am on a billboard, am not associated with any products as such. The only thing I am advertising is the past. There are no other children in Blade Runner and no other ‘Janes’. I am unique in this context. I am a dream of the future. I am my memory. I’m yours.


The habit of using my cameo to impress and seduce others could be put down to an attempt to share myself with others, to achieve intimacy with them, in a way that was safe. But really, I think I was just trying to show off. Here I was, beamed into a fictional future world, but also a real-world film which by 1989 was considered to be a cult classic and which had already changed the way the future was viewed across every art form. Utopia had well and truly been ruled out. My association with this counter cultural phenomenon could only make me cooler in the eyes of other mere mortals, who were not preserved for eternity in the hermetic bliss of a decrepit, kipple-ridden* landscape.


*Kipple: noun. a sinister type of rubbish which builds up without any human intervention. Invented by Philip K. Dick for use in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, 1968.

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