Re: is forgetting adaptive?

From: Philip Jonkers (
Date: Mon Mar 11 2002 - 06:39:10 GMT

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    Subject: Re: is forgetting adaptive?
    Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2002 21:39:10 -0900
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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
    > 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
    > 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 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
    > 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 If something is no longer current or pressing, why remember it?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?

            Given a metabolism that requires resources to remember things
            I would rather say that the opposite: remembering is adaptive and
            that forgetting is the cop-out default. As you already suggested
            remembering everything that crosses your path for eternity
            is a sheer waste of energy and undesirable if the memories are only
            of temporal use. A species with a good memory emerged only when
            there was a real need for the species to have a good resource
            draining memory. Socially interacting animals fit the bill I think.


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