The curse of memory

This morning’s MPR Midmorning’s discussion about forgetting and memory was fascinating in a this-is-the-day-I-figure-out-time-travel sort of way.

You have to give host Kerri Miller credit for pluckiness and persistence because it started out the way too many math classes started when I was in school: Too hard. Checking out.

Early on, one of the guests Dr. Gayatri Devi, director of New York Memory and Healthy Aging Services, tried to differentiate between forgetting and memory, when Kerri asked why we’re able to consciously remember something, but we can’t consciously forget something?

“Forgetting has to occur constantly and if we had to consciously remember what we forget, we would not be able to function. It would overwhelm our mental capacity.”

Like, umm, now.

But James McGaugh, a neuroscientist and founding director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine, took another tack in explaining why the brain forgets things. Otherwise, it would be a curse, as in the case of Jill Price.

“She’s a prisoner of her memories,” McGaugh acknowledged. “She can remember her 13th birthday but when she remembers it, she’ll also remember that someone there insulted her… She is able to call up all sorts of good information, in doing so she unearths a lot of unpleasant things.”

Give the show a listen:

If you could remember everything, would you want to?

  • As it is, right now, I have a pretty good memory for things that I care to remember–and things that I obsess over and don’t want to.

    I want to improve my memory of things that I want to remember. However, to remember everything indiscriminately would run to madness.

  • bigalmn

    I would not want to remember everything. I remember too many things I would like to forget already.

    I only wish that I had more memories of early childhood. So many people remember what they did when they were three.

    I do not remember much before I was 8 or 9 years old.

  • tiredboomer

    I was going to post some sort of response to this … can’t remember the exact point.

    I think I wanted to say, I have strong opinions on almost any topic based on poorly remembered malleable facts.

  • John

    I remember everything, I hate it. Every bad moment is always with me, every good moment is always longed to repeat but rarely does. Sometimes drugs or alcohol can help to forget things but it’s very temporary. Memory is a torture.