is forgetting adaptive?

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sun Mar 10 2002 - 12:51:57 GMT

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    Subject: is forgetting adaptive?
    Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2002 07:51:57 -0500
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    Thinking of what Daniel Schacter says of possible evolutionary advantages to
    transience (reduction of memory for specific things as a function of time)
    in _The Seven Sins of Memory_, one wonders if a "perfect" or permanent
    memory store might actually be an evolutionary albatross. What would happen
    if you never forgot anything? What if you could recall every explicit detail
    of every event in your entire life like it just happened? Could you function
    normally with such a cognitive overload? Would you eventually run out of
    room for new memories?

    In the short-term it might be good for me to recall that I have some frozen
    dinners in my freezer so that later I can cook a meal. The ability to
    maintain this short-term information may have long-term survival advantages
    harkening back to ancestors that needed to recall momentary sources of food
    or caches on the savannah. OTOH, would it do me any good to remember that I
    had a particular brand of frozen microwavable dinner in my freezer back say
    10 years ago? Would it do me any good to painstakingly recall every package
    of microwavable dinner I had ever retrieved from my refrigerator? Maybe the
    basic ideas that I can buy these dinners at various local supermarkets and
    that I have recently stored them in the freezer would suffice. In the
    ancestral environment, likewise, it may have been advantageous to remember
    that certain areas were where food had often been stored in the past, but
    not the explicit details of every cache. Would it do the savannah dweller
    any good to remember that particular cache from 10 years ago when there are
    more recent caches to recall?

    If something is no longer current or pressing, why remember it? Wouldn't it
    be better for this memory (or at least its particulars) to recede, allowing
    space for newer, more pertinent, information?

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