Why do we forget stuff?

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Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 17th, 2018, 1:50 pm 

Example A: A man leaves his house for work. He leaves the house and shuts the door. He goes to unlock the car, but he forgot to grab his keys. Now he can't get in the house either.

Example B: Someone asks for my phone number which hasn't changed in years, but I can't for the life of me recall it.

>Is there a difference between the type of forgetfulness in examples A and B?
>Why does the brain allow things to be forgotten knowing that the information is important?
>I also wonder why we still forget stuff considering it would disadvantage us, it hasn't evolved out.
>I've had experiences where the memory has been "on the tip of my tongue". I can "feel" the memory there, and I try to help it coalesce without success even though I know it's the right memory. It will often come to me hours later when the moment has gone. What's that all about? And is it the same forgetfulness as examples A or B?
>And why is it worse on some days than others.
>Can forgetfulness be measured and quantified, perhaps as a percentage of a standard?

I can think of more questions, trust me! But that's a fair bit to chew over. I wonder what you guys will make of it, I hope it gets you curious too. EH.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 2:42 pm 

Those examples are not so much of forgetting as of items "slipping one's mind". The fact that we have different expressions for it shows that both types of situation are familiar to most people. The difference between memory loss and memory lapse is significant - plus a third type, which might be described as memory misplacement. A memory loss is permanent - though we sometimes, sloppily, refer to a "temporary memory loss". A memory lapse is of very short duration - minutes, rather than hours. A memory displacement or misplacement or suppression can last anywhere from minutes to decades.

Example A is a memory lapse. You were preoccupied with the forthcoming trip to work, work itself, a conversation over breakfast, memories of last night, plans for later in the day, the minutia of preparation for departure. You were in a hurry; your mind was juggling a dozen or more unrelated thoughts, and one item was overlooked.

Example B is a memory misplacement. The information is stored, you know it's stored, but it's temporarily inaccessible. This, I think, is a lapse of the retrieval mechanism. It may have a variety of causes, including physical (e.g. age-related lacunae in the brain) physiological (e.g. diminished blood-supply) chemical (e.g. alcohol inhibiting neural function) or psychological (e.g. traumatic experience suppressing memories) There may be other factors I overlooked (temporarily forgot) or never knew.
Why does the brain allow things to be forgotten knowing that the information is important?

Because it's not a super-entity: it's just another organ, imperfect and subject to stresses, like every other part of the body.
>I also wonder why we still forget stuff considering it would disadvantage us, it hasn't evolved out.

We remember enough to get past past puberty and reproduce. The cave-boy who forgot that saber-toothed tigers are dangerous did evolve out. Burning a toast or having to break into your car are not life- or procreation-threatening lapses.
On a serious note, modern life may be overloading human brains to the point of frequent malfunction and breakdown. Just consider how many more names you know than people. What's the point of storing the names of actors, athletes, dead generals, fictional characters? We clutter our minds with an incredible amount of useless trivia, because the brain evolved in a real, animate, immediate environment, where everything we learned, experienced and observed had a practical application, was potentially important.
>Can forgetfulness be measured and quantified, perhaps as a percentage of a standard?

In Alzheimer's diagnostic tests and college exams, a reasonably successful attempt is made.
But, of course, the standard itself is necessarily arbitrary.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 17th, 2018, 4:02 pm 

That's a good reply Serpent. I think this thread - or at least the subject is a quite important one. I know nothing about memory dynamics so I'm just trying to get an idea of what's going on here.

I agree there is a difference between memory loss and memory lapse. It's strange that buried memories can be achieved by the application of hypnosis. Well, that's not strange, what is strange is that although a given memory is demonstrably accessible, we can't access it.

As for evolving out, I agree again. People do get killed all the time due to forgetting some vital protocol they've been routinely using for safety reasons. But again, subconsciously the brain must know how important it is, but neglects a lethal detail anyway. Our brains are highly evolved, but still fail to alert us we're gonna get killed!

And how the heck can we retain so much stuff? Terabytes of memories so detailed for so long into such a small location? That's just fascinating.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 5:32 pm 

Event Horizon » April 17th, 2018, 3:02 pm wrote: I'm just trying to get an idea of what's going on here.

You and a veritable army of neuro-scientists. This is fairly recently explored territory for biology, but it's been fodder for psychologists for at least a century.

It's strange that buried memories can be achieved by the application of hypnosis.
Well, that's not strange, what is strange is that although a given memory is demonstrably accessible, we can't access it.

Not always. I mean, it's always strange - spooky, even! - when it works, but it doesn't always work. Then, too, you sometimes get false memories implanted through hypnotic suggestion. There are so many processes involved.

People do get killed all the time due to forgetting some vital protocol they've been routinely using for safety reasons. But again, subconsciously the brain must know how important it is, but neglects a lethal detail anyway. Our brains are highly evolved, but still fail to alert us we're gonna get killed!

And sometimes you have to wonder whether that vital protocol was really forgotten, or what.
How often have you forgotten to do something you really didn't really feel like doing? There seems to be a set of priorities that's not rationally controlled.
Other factors, too.
One time, I made a total ass of myself, staring up at a 5-gallon container on top of a laboratory cabinet, spraying a fine jet of 95% alcohol, because the hose had slipped off the tap. I knew that I knew exactly what should be done, but could not recollect it. When we are unprepared, deliberate, selective information-retrieval may be blocked. Stress and and shock sometimes have the same effect.
Why?

And how the heck can we retain so much stuff? Terabytes of memories so detailed for so long into such a small location? That's just fascinating.

Amen!
Last edited by Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 6:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Braininvat on April 17th, 2018, 6:00 pm 

One time, I made a total ass of myself, staring up at a 5-gallon container on top of a laboratory cabinet, spraying a fine jet of 95% alcohol, because the hose had slipped off the tap. I knew that I knew exactly what should be done, but could not recollect it.


Throw a party, obviously.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 6:16 pm 

Bad idea. It was methyl.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 18th, 2018, 9:48 pm 

I think sometimes our subconscious does warn us of stuff. I think most people can say there has been a time when they have been stopped by a "feeling" they'd forgotten something even though they can't say exactly what it is. Sometimes this pause does give us time to remember, and then we can get on.

It seems the memory does self-correct at times. Mnemonics is still a bit of a niche field I think.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby edy420 on April 19th, 2018, 2:44 am 

I’ve suffered a type of memory loss, where I’m confused if my visual is just a memory, or if it’s an involuntary visual thought.
Visual thoughts are easy to forget, because they don’t bear any importance in terms of holding onto.

But when my wife walks me through an event, I’m hit with the realisation that it wasn’t a thought, but in fact it happened.
Sometimes when I concentrate hard enough, I’ll be hit with a wave of memories that I now know were all real events.

What’s strange is, even though they resurfaced, and I’ve walked through them with my wife, I’m beginning to lose them again.
It’s quite terrifying TBH.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 19th, 2018, 6:06 am 

Hi Edy. I'm sorry to hear of your difficulties.

I am no expert on memory hence the thread, and it affects us all for good or for bad. What you are describing sounds a bit unusual. It may be a known condition and I would recommend seeking medical advice if you have not done so already.

As these memories can be teased back into consciousness they seem not to be a total loss, but a temporary kind of loss that can be temporarily reinstated.
Age also plays a role as does dementia, Alzheimers etc. Catching those early seems to improve the outcome, but It doesn't sound like you have those either.

We can improve memory function by playing memory games which are myriad, and I believe Omega 3, 6 or 12 fish oils are also supposed to have a positive effect on memory function, but again, ask a physician because I am not qualified to give medical advice.

If you do see a doctor he may want to get your brain nMRI'd to see what's going on in there. Looking for evidence of encephalopathy and/or plaques. What parts of the brain light up when you try accessing memories.

It's so sad you have this problem, and if you do get your head looked at by a physician I would be grateful if you could share with us what the diagnosis is, and the treatment for our collective edification. Providing you are comfortable to do that.

All the best, EH.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby neuro on May 2nd, 2018, 9:21 am 

Event H,
if you wish to deepen your knowledge about memory, first you have to separate the memory into three distinct functions: recording, consolidating, retrieving.
You may have problems in recording (typical of dementia, e.g. Alzheimer).
You may have problems in consolidating: anything you record will be destabilized whenever you recall it, and may be stored again after having been slightly modified - this is the reason why two witnesses will remember the same episode diffferently.
You may have problems in retrieving. This does not necessarily mean one "has problems". The point is that the "spontaneous" (unconscious, not voluntarily driven, preverbal) flow of "thought" (it would possibly be better to say imaginative activity) is mostly guided by associations (and emotional relevance of evoked associations). This implies that the associative pathway from A to B may not be easily followed backward from B to A (many other paths that lead to B may have greater relevance...). This is the reason why you will probably have no problems in recalling the face of an actor you know when someone names them, whereas you may not be able to recall the name of an actor you have quite clearly in mind. Many similar phenomena of asymmetry occur (this is the feeling of having the info on the tip of your tongue).

Memory "lapses" are easily happening based on relevance, and sometimes they are practically counterproductive but emotionally understandable: the subconscious path avoids passages that may be painful or "dangerous" (possibly linked to some bad memory), or may simply be diverted by some other events/aspects/thoughts that are more emotionally relevant.

As for the difficulty in distinguishing memories from dreams/thoughts/fantasies, as mentioned by Edy, an important projection from the brainstem to associative sensory cortices (involving serotonin) has the function of telling our brain if something we visualize is out there (real) or generated by endogenous activity (imagination). Any drug or situation that influences our mental state or interferes with serotonin action can deceive this mechanism. This also is the basis of hallucinations.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on May 2nd, 2018, 6:29 pm 

Ah, really interesting. I take a high dosage of a medication called Seroquel that acts on serotonin. I didn't realize serotonin was even involved in memory. What a great reply, loads of stuff there to think on.
I was watching a film and one character was distressed he couldn't recall his wifes' face. His comrade told him to try and think of a context. A meal, a dance. I find it really does help as nearly everybody I knew are all dead now. The film was Saving Private Ryan.
Ah, see? context. Not his wife, his brother. I remember now!
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