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When knowledge really isn't power

LET'S raise a glass to modern science.

There's no cure for cancer yet - or even the common cold - but they're on the point of inventing a pill for Hibs fans, of which benighted breed I am a member. I don't think the boffins at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond had us devotees of The Cabbage specifically in mind when they first embarked on their research project, but the serendipity is striking. For they are working on a pill that has the potential to wipe away unhappy memories.

The journal Nature Neuroscience reports that in the US study, mice given the drug fongolimod - which is used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis - were faster at getting rid of acquired-fear memories.

Interesting. As Jennifer Aniston used to say in the shampoo adverts, here comes the science bit: it works by blocking the activities of white blood cells in the brain and spinal cord.

The scientists locked a group of mice in a chamber and gave them a mild electric shock, a mere bagatelle compared to watching Hibs trying to defend a two-goal lead. Although they showed symptoms of shock and anxiety by remaining still in their cage - the mice, not the fans - they started recovering after taking the medicine. Mice that received the drug completely forgot what had happened. Right, where do I sign up?

There is, of course, a serious side to this research. In theory, this pill could lead to new treatments for post-traumatic stress, obsessions and phobias. However, there are ethical worries, too. There are fears that it could have hurtful psychol­ogical ramifications through stopping people who take the drug from learning from their mistakes.

This might be a game-changer. We need to know that certain actions have painful consequences, other­wise we - and this is the royal "we" - would just keep on doing them.

We need to know that if we grab hold of the red bar on an electric fire when trying to light a cigarette, it will be hot, and it will be painful.

We need to know - especially when we are 18 - that if we drink too much on a night out and decide to borrow a friend's bicycle to get home, that we will fall off on several occasions, and it will be painful.

We need to know that if we run across a rain-soaked station concourse in our smart but slippy work shoes, we will fall on our bahookey, and it will be painful.

Some things we need to know, and we need to remember. But as I sit here with The Herald sports section beside my keyboard, I know just one thing. I need some fongolimod.

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