Student Interest

Why We Need to Forget to Remember

For more than a century, scientists have been studying the art of memory, trying to find the science behind the way we recall and store memories. However, this is only half of the tapestry of memory. While our brain is working to retain, it is also working to forget. 

Until approximately ten years ago, the act of forgetting was marginalized as simply the passive fading of unutilized information—a weakness of memory. Eventually, researchers studying memory unfolded the flaw of this common assumption and found that the brain is also built to forget—that in fact, forgetting works to make our memory stronger. 

The act of forgetting is engineered to repress or completely eliminate minutiae that would otherwise complicate the retention of important information. This allows our memory to effectively grasp information it believes is necessary and make sure to retain it for further use. 

The art of forgetting developed in humans as a tool for survival; today, it remains active in our everyday lives. The environment is constantly changing, and in order to adapt to it, the brain must select information that is no longer important to be able to quickly retrieve the more vital information. These selections are based on the frequency and relevance of certain pieces of knowledge.

For instance, imagine you get a new cell phone number. Do you really want, every time you have to recall it, to have your previous cell phone numbers come to mind too? Or when you’re trying to remember where you parked: do you want the images of all the other places you’ve ever parked in display in your mind? The mind finds itself obligated to constantly update information in order to provide you with only the most relevant pictures you need at a given time. For this reason, it is at times harder to remember information that was not previously pertinent. 

In other words, the act of forgetting is a sort of strategic controller of our memories, that with the aid of certain hints and maneuvers is able to provide a good display of information. So in sum, it can be stated what before may have seemed like an oxymoron: that a person with good memory is one good at forgetting. 

Those who master the forgetting of irrelevant information have shown to be good at problem solving and recalling information while being given other information that could cause deviation. 

We can conclude that there is a crucial function to forgetting, an art that we widely misrepresent as an enemy of memory. Like many things, memory ought to have balance; therefore, sometimes we need to forget to have memories worth having.

Categories: Student Interest

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