Given that bad memories lie behind more poems of mine than good ones do, I’m not very keen on the idea explored in this article. Still, it seemed intriguing so I thought I’d share it. It brought back memories of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favourite films, which investigates some possible consequences of deleting what you don’t like from your memory bank. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
A mental adventure familiar to most students is that of cramming one’s mind with knowledge in the run up to an exam. Once the exam is done, we gleefully evacuate our brain of all this hard-won learning that’s no longer needed. Within days, we can barely remember the subject matter, let alone the details. At such moments, it’s as if we’ve forgotten on purpose.
It might then come as a surprise to learn that until recently, there was little scientific evidence that people could have any deliberate influence on their rates of forgetting. But in the last few years, a small family of experimental techniques have showed that, under the right conditions, we can in fact deliberately forget things. The effects are subtle, but nonetheless suggestive: being able to forget at will would, after all, be a killer life skill.
But how does deliberate forgetting work? An exciting new study sheds light on the question.
Jeremy Manning and Kenneth Norman have been doing wonderful work on memory for years, and in a remarkably cunning experiment, they provide evidence that we forget things by discarding the mental context within which those memories were first learned.
What they observed is that the brain that attempts to remember keeps active the mental context that was present during the learning – whereas the brain that tries to forget discards that context, letting go of the mental scaffolding that had (probably) supported the construction of those memories in the first place.