If you often forget simple things like locking the doors or where you parked the car – Congratulations you’re a highly intelligent person.
How’s that for some unusual good news?
The next time someone tells you that you have a bad memory, just flip your hair and smirk with pride. I, personally, have always been shamed for my forgetfulness. From academic course material to daily chores. I would forget almost everything. The worst part was my confidence. For every assignment, I would confidently promise that I would complete it. And I would never write it down. Even though my teachers and my peers would suggest that I should, countless times. But my ego was too big, and I always wanted to prove that I was smart enough to memorize. Then on the fateful day of submission, my face would scrunch up in a cringe, as I would say, “I forgot”. The 2 words that would make my cheeks burn in embarrassment.
Finally, though, I am free of the constant need to prove myself as a smart person. Because apparently, science has done the job already. Basically, experts conclude that a good memory does not mean high intelligence. Also, that the brain is wired in such a way that it should forget some and remember some. All in all, forgetfulness is a significant part of intelligence.
“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world.”
A research piece in Neuron explains everything there is to know about memory and it’s association with intelligence. The authors of this paper are Paul Frankland and Blake Richards. Paul specializes in the CIFAR’S Child and Brain Development Program. While Blake is a student in the Learning in the Machines and Brain Programs. According to the University of Toronto News, forgetting is an active function of our brain.
The two researchers from the said university went through every study they had on memory. In neurobiology, the study of remembering is known as persistence. While the study of forgetting is known as transience. As a matter of fact, the purpose of our brain is not to store facts. But it is to operate and use the full potential of our intelligence. So the brain only stores, relevant information, and thus is capable of making decisions.
“The real goal of memory is to optimize decision-making,” according to Richards. He explains, “It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world.” For a long time in the field, it was most definitely believed that good memory was top notch. Most of the research has focused greatly on persistence, rather than transience. On so many occasions, forgetfulness has been taken as not having enough information stored or used by the brain. That there is a failure of mental mechanisms to recycle information.
The co-author, Frankland then goes on to say, “We find plenty of evidence from recent research that there are mechanisms that promote memory loss, and that these are distinct from those involved in storing information.”
One of his recent lab studies show some shocking findings. The reproduction and growth of the neurons in the hippocampus tends to foster forgetfulness. This is surprising because this is the part of the brain that generates most number of cells in younger people. The study also goes into the childhood memory. It justifies how childhood forgetfulness can be responsible for the mass number of adults not remembering anything about their life before they were 4.
The question is: Why does our brain have to spend the same big amount of energy to memorize things but also forget things. Richard claims that it is important to forget some of the huge amounts of information that you absorb in on a daily basis. Firstly, because it is too distracting and irrelevant. And secondly, the world is constantly growing and evolving. So old news goes out of trend eventually and makes remembering it not worth it.
“If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up multiple conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision.”
Another reason focuses on the reinforcing of an idea used in the articles of modern intelligence, aka regularization. This is basically why computers are able to simplify from a stack of data. To activate regularization, there needs to be a certain level of forgetting. Kind of like shunning a number of ideas. This is because the mind needs to prioritize its data, and this is the only way to do it. While you’re in the middle of making a decision, Blake Richards explains that you will never get it done if your brain is constantly firing up with old information.
If you’re a forgetful person, give yourself a pat on the back.