The Importance Of Forgetting

“Just put it out of your mind,” may be better advice than you think: We’ll look at memory and the scientific importance of forgetting.

This rendered 3-D computed tomography (CT) scan looking down the human head shows the complicated arteries and veins (in blue) supplying the brain above the base of the skull (in green). (Kai-hung Fung/National Science Foundation)

This rendered 3-D computed tomography (CT) scan looking down the human head shows the complicated arteries and veins (in blue) supplying the brain above the base of the skull (in green). (Kai-hung Fung/National Science Foundation)

We talk so much about memory.  Not losing it.  Enhancing it.  Diving into it.  Working through it.  Sometimes, says a raft of new science, it’s better to just forget.  Forgetting, it turns out, may be a key part of mental health, mental hygiene.

Sigmund Freud said deal with it.  Dive into that repressed stuff.  Work it out.  Work it through. Tony Soprano said “fuggetaboutit.”  Tony Soprano may have been right.  Remember and you’ll ruminate.  Ruminate, and you’re bummed.  The brain is also built to forget.

This hour, On Point: memory and forgetting, and when forgetting may be for the best.

-Tom Ashbrook



Ingrid Wickelgren, an editor at Scientific American Mind and the author of the Streams of Consciousness blog at Her special report in the latest issue of Scientific American Mind, titled Forgetting is Key to a Healthy Mind.

Michael Anderson, a professor at the University of Cambridge and a member of their Memory Research Group.

Alison Winter, associate professor of history at the University of Chicago. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Memory: Fragments of a Modern History.

From Tom’s Reading List

Scientific American Mind “Solomon Shereshevsky could recite entire speeches, word for word, after hearing them once. In minutes, he memorized complex math formulas, passages in foreign languages and tables consisting of 50 numbers or nonsense syllables. The traces of these sequences were so durably etched in his brain that he could reproduce them years later, according to Russian psychologist Alexander R. Luria, who wrote about the man he called, simply, “S” in The Mind of a Mnemonist.”

Salon “One of the most tenacious themes of 20th-century memory research was the idea that people tormented by the memories of terrible experiences could benefit from remembering them, and from remembering them better. The assumption — broadly indebted to psychoanalysis — was that psychological records of traumatic events often failed to be fully “integrated” into conscious memories. ”



“Unforgettable”  by Nat King Cole

“Forget You”  by Cee Lo Green

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