The Lord of the Flies

Scientists have used lasers to create false memories of pain in fruit flies.

New Scientist

Well, gentlemen. I don't think I need to remind you how important the Advanced Laser Research Division is to our plans of global domination. So let's skip the preamble and get straight to business. What have you got for me today? Smithers?

We have developed a powerful argon laser that can knock ICBMs out of the sky at a distance of four hundred nautical miles. With a further two years of funding, we believe that we could shrink it sufficiently to allow it to be deployed on mobile platforms and aircraft.

Excellent, excellent. And what's your team been up to, Jones?

We've been working on an improved laser targeting system. We believe that we can now use it to enable delivery of air-launched munitions with a CEP of less than five metres.

Splendid. Now, Miesenbock, I know you're going to amaze me — what stunning application of laser technology have you come up with?

We can create false memories in fruit flies.

I beg your pardon?

We can create false memories in fruit flies.

Yes ... that's what I thought you said. Now, forgive me if I'm not seeing all the potential applications here, but ...

The, uh ...

... I mean, last time I looked, flies weren't allowed to testify in court, am I right?

Well, no ...

So I couldn't, say, get out of a speeding ticket by having a bunch of fruit flies show up and testify on my behalf, could I?

No, but ...

So perhaps you'd be good enough to tell me why I should care what a fly can or cannot remember?

You see, sir, the memories we create, they're actually memories of pain.

Of pain.

Yes, sir.

Miesenbock, are you some kind of curious entomological sadist? Do you get some weird sexual thrill out of imagining those flies going around remembering the fictitious pain they've suffered at your hands? Am I going to read over your budget files and find them full of invoices for tiny ball-gags and handcuffs?

But we can permanently modify the fly's behavior!

Dr Miesenbock, you don't need a state-of-the-art laser to permanently modify a fly's behavior. In my own experience, a rolled-up newspaper does the job just fine.

I ...

Thank you, gentlemen. That will be all. Dr Smithers, Dr Jones, I look forward to receiving your detailed reports in due course. Dr Miesenbock, perhaps you'd be kind enough to stop by my office later. I'd like to give you a demonstration of a little project of my own, which uses lasers to create memories of pain in human beings.

- okapi :: Science & Technology :: 16 October 2009