It used to be thought the human brain never forgets a thing. All of our experiences can be drawn out once we figure out how to unlock the memory. Now, scientists are thinking that once we reach maximum capacity in the ol’ noggin, old memories are replaced by new ones. However, this doesn’t explain why I can remember hiding the spilled package of coffee behind the refrigerator at the age of three but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast last Tuesday.
Scientist have long known about the neural pathways into the hippocampus but we used to only hear of two: the pathway where memories are formed and the pathway where memories are recalled. Now, in studies with lab mice (what else?), they have now discovered a third pathway where memories are being forgotten. This is an active task much like recording new music over old or deleting an old file or uninstalling an old program on our computers. Is selective memory now a possibility? I know there are some things I would like to forget.
What is a hippocampus and is it important? Only if you want to remember something that happened before yesterday. This is where all of our long term memory lives until it is needed. Think of it as New York City. There are more and more people every year but the boroughs don’t get any bigger. Crammed inside is everything you have done or seen. Or at least we used to think. I guess there isn’t room for everything. So how are the memories selected to be forgotten? Again, we look to the scientists. They believe the older memories that haven’t been used (or recalled) will slowly be replaced by more active memories. In other words — use it or lose it. By the way, short term memories are handled by the cortex and cerebellum.
Ben Affleck showed us in “Paycheck” how a corporation can protect their secrets. Kind of sounds like our bosses don’t trust us, doesn’t it? If our bosses can’t trust us, can we trust them? Or, are we able to trust them because we can’t remember why we can’t trust them? Or… this can be so confusing. I could just bury my head in the sand and not have to worry that I know what I am not supposed to know if I only knew what that was.
Jim Carey once showed us in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” what could be possible in a world where we could control what we remember. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could forget all of those embarrassing moments of our youth — heck the ones from yesterday could be a start. But, one has to wonder if the memories of bad things can serve a purpose. Should we forget all the pain and suffering? Wouldn’t that mean we also lose what we have learned from the experience? Would I be doomed to repeat that embarrassing question I asked back in the fourth grade?
We see this with our computers; they either slow down or stop working. Is forgetting of unused memories just the brain’s natural way of cleaning out our cookie jar? Is the reason why I have slow days is because I just know too much? Sounds good to me. My problem today is I am smarter than I need to be. I guess it is time to watch television.