Description: This may seem like an odd question but what comes to mind when you think about forgetting? I suspect that most of what comes to mind as you ponder on forgetting is negative: things or events you forgot, concerns over loss of memory with age or loss of memory due to accident or illness – all negative – all bad and all understandable concerns. However, can you think about possible places, ways or situations where forgetting would be a good thing? Of course, being able to forget traumatic events would be high up on a list of good forgetting but what about a possible role for forgetting in day-to-day life? Think about what it would like if you never forgot anything, any experience, any event, and sensory impression? There is a term for that, hyperthymesia (Google it) and while you might have thought that it would help you with exams those few people who seem to have this condition are not completely comfortable or happy with it. Step back from your first thoughts about these questions and think for a minute about everyday places or ways in which some forgetting might actually be adaptive and then go and listen to or see Scott Smal talk about the work that lead to his recently published book on this very topic.
Source: Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering, Scott Small, CBC Quirks and Quarks Podcast.
Date: October 16, 2021
Article Link: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-51-quirks-and-quarks/clip/15872417-fecal-transplants-fountain-youth-supernova-repeat-bee-dancing (Featured interview starts at the 34:50 mark). Or see a video interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA_cqheWjCM
So, what do you think? Could forgetting have at least some adaptive value? At a sensory level it may be very important as part of how we sort out trees from forests both literally and figuratively. If more of less forgetting at the neuronal level is a sort of continuum it could well play an interesting part in an expanded exploration of what is involved in low to high functioning individuals on the Autism Spectrum (where high functioning used to be a separate category called Asperger’s Syndrome. It might also nudge us further in the direction of a differently abled as opposed to a disable perspective is regards to people on the spectrum by broadening our perspectives on adaptivity. A lot of fascinating stuff to think about!
Questions for Discussion:
- What is forgetting generally viewed as a completely negative thing?
- What are some ways in which versions or levels of forgetting might be adaptive?
- What might a closer look at the adaptive role of forgetting lead us to in terms of new was to look at Autism?
References (Read Further):
Small, Scott (2021) Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering, Crown.
Potter, M. C. (2012). Conceptual short-term memory in perception and thought. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 113. Link
Potter, M. C., Staub, A., Rado, J., & O’Connor, D. H. (2002). Recognition memory for briefly presented pictures: the time course of rapid forgetting. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 28(5), 1163. Link
Kramer, R. S. (2021). Forgetting faces over a week: investigating self-reported face recognition ability and personality. PeerJ, 9, e11828. Link
Davis, R. L., & Zhong, Y. (2017). The biology of forgetting—a perspective. Neuron, 95(3), 490-503. Link
Poe, G. R. (2017). Sleep is for forgetting. Journal of Neuroscience, 37(3), 464-473. Link
Bowler, D., Gaigg, S., & Lind, S. (2011). Memory in autism: Binding, self and brain. Link