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 the memory. Eventually, researchers
studying the memory unfolded the flaw of this common assumption and found that the brain is also built to forget. In fact, forgetting works to make our memory stronger.


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

The art of forgetting developed in humans as a tool for survival that today remains active
in our everyday lives. The environment is constantly changing, and in order to adapt, 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 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 remembering where you parked, do you want all the places you’ve parked every other day to display in your mind or only the place relevant to that day? The mind finds itself obligated to constantly update information in order to provide you with the most relevant pictures you need at the 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 leave a good display of information.
Hence,, what before may have seemed an oxymoron can be stated: 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 when given other information that can 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 keeping.

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