Re: is forgetting adaptive?

From: Simos Kitiris (
Date: Mon Mar 11 2002 - 00:32:59 GMT

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    Subject: Re: is forgetting adaptive?
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    >In the short-term it might be good for me to recall that I have some
    >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
    >harkening back to ancestors that needed to recall momentary sources of
    >or caches on the savannah. OTOH, would it do me any good to remember that
    >had a particular brand of frozen microwavable dinner in my freezer back
    >10 years ago? Would it do me any good to painstakingly recall every
    >of microwavable dinner I had ever retrieved from my refrigerator? Maybe
    >basic ideas that I can buy these dinners at various local supermarkets
    >that I have recently stored them in the freezer would suffice. In the
    >ancestral environment, likewise, it may have been advantageous to
    >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
    >more recent caches to recall?
    >If something is no longer current or pressing, why remember it? Wouldn't
    >be better for this memory (or at least its particulars) to recede,
    >space for newer, more pertinent, information?

    Just as an aside... I think that there must be an even more high-level
    initial screaning to the information that actually reaches your memory;
    if you think about it the examples that you give seem like pre-processed
    information. By that I mean
    that our brain classifies some relatively important information as
    'events', 'locations' etc. Remembering for example every microwavable meal
    that we've eaten, is actually not a lot of information if you consider
    other sources of information inflow; our eyes alone, give a data rate of
    about 3 Gbytes/s!
    Our memory can't possibly cope with that kind of information inflow; most
    of this information is just simply discarded (well, perhaps not discarded
    but just has a very very short 'expiry time-stamp' if that helps in
    relating this to what Daniel Schacter says) on the spot and there is an
    obvious evolutionary advantage to anyone that can perform this initial
    screaning effectively and keep only information that will be of use later
    on - extending this I would say that the same applies to the reduction of
    memory as function of time. As Grant pointed
    out 'There has to be a way for a finite brain to deal with infinite
    amounts of information about the world we live in.' - to that i'd like to
    add that it's not only a matter of capacity; the brain also seems to have
    a constraint regarding the rate at which new information is stored (this
    probably has to do with biological processes but i have no clue about
    those). Memorising 10 new phone numbers in one minute seems like an
    really hard task, whereas the brain obviously has the capacity of
    remembering them... I wonder if forgetting specific things with time helps
    to improve this maximum rate, apart from the actual capacity. (ie does
    having less stored information in your brain increase the maximum rate of
    storing new information?)
    What i also find interesting is the way events (and generally information)
    is time stamped; why is it that after a period of time, although the
    information is still somewhere in our memory, we might need much longer to recall it?
    That might shed some more light into this but I guess
    that is another story...


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