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Knight Rider: What Michael Knight Forgot

Science Not FictionBy Eric WolffJanuary 23, 2009 11:30 AM


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All that build up for an episode about KARR, and that's it? In last night's episode of Knight Rider, a dangerous robot went on the rampage, and all we get is a turbo-boosted kill shot from KITT, and KARR is no more? Sheesh. Now I almost wish I could just forget the whole KARR plot— kinda like Michael Knight did. Early in the episode, the late Dr. Graiman tells Knight, via hologram, that he was actually KARR's first driver. As we know, KARR started programming himself and became a killing machine, forcing the government to scrap the program and build KITT. To prevent Knight from spilling the beans, they wiped Knight's memory. Induced amnesia is a classic of Sci Fi—and of soap operas, and who knows what all— but can it actually be done? The current theory of memory formation is somewhat in flux, but generally there are four stages: acquisition, consoliddation, storage and retrieval. A 2007 study at the Scripps Research Institute found that the same clusters of neurons that activated during memory formation re-activated during memory retrieval in experiments on mice. the results lend credibility to the reconstruction theory of memory activation which says that when you summon a memory to the forefront of thought, it is actually reconstructed. And if memories are being reconstructed with each use, that process of formation can be interrupted. After all, memory formation is disturbed by drugs all the time. Ever go on a bender and not remember what happened in the morning? That's the alcohol interfering with memory formation. At Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Roger Pittman is using propranolol, a high blood pressure medication, to interfere with the creation of memories. In theory, if a patient describes a memory to a psychologist, the memory will be reactivated. But as the memory is reconstructed, the drug interferes with the memory's formation, allowing the person to forget. Pittman describes his results as very preliminary, so, don't go expecting to run to CVS for a forgetting drug any time soon. Another early, promising result on this front comes out of the University of Georgia where Dr. Joe Tsien has found a way to interfere with an enzyme, calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII), crucial to memory formation. Tsien trained a mouse to be afraid of an object. They found that by overstimulating CaMKII, they caused the mouse to forget past associations with the object, even associations as much as a month old. Of course, there are other, less precise ways to interfere with memory formation. Electroshock Therapy causes memory loss, but also brain damage. And some hypnotists say they can cause memory loss in a willing patient. But Knight was clearly not willing, and brain damage might not be desirable in an elite field operative. Then again, Michael Knight needed memories erased of having driven a talking car that could transform into a robot. Maybe they knocked hm out, woke him up, and convinced him that it was all a dream. You know, kind of like the end of Newheart.

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