Re: is forgetting adaptive?

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sun Mar 10 2002 - 15:35:15 GMT

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    Subject: Re: is forgetting adaptive?
    Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2002 07:35:15 -0800
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    >Thinking of what Daniel Schacter says of possible evolutionary advantages
    >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
    >of every event in your entire life like it just happened? Could you
    >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If something is no longer current or pressing, why remember it?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?
    This appears to be one of the functions of the brain. The brain has been
    likened to muscle mass -- if you don't use it you lose it. The connections
    between axons that grow from using our brains are lost and replaced with
    other connections when we don't use them. I once read (so long ago I can't
    remember where) that the brain is an information limiting system. It is
    programmed to ignore things that are not pertinent or important to what we
    are doing. The life we live determines what we keep or toss. Although the
    brain has trillions of connections to work with, it is still finite and the
    amount of input we process is incredibly large. There has to be a way for a
    finite brain to deal with infinite amounts of information about the world we
    live in.


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