Jun 17

“Forgetting”: Douwe Draaisma Sees As Inevitable Necessity

Whereas author Douwe Draaisma, a professor of psychology in the Netherlands, has already focused on the phenomenon of memory in such books such as Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past (2012) and The Nostalgia Factory: Memory, Time and Ageing (2013), now his preoccupation is its counterpart, forgetting.

In Forgetting: Myths, Perils and Compensations (2015) Draaisma notes that it is an inevitable phenomenon no matter what the memory-boosting marketers promise. “…(M)emory is not a muscle that can be built up through mental gymnastics,” writes Heller McAlpin, Washington Post, about Draaisma’s opinion.

Quoting him: “After the age of fifty we fight a dogged battle with forgetting — not for the first time, since this is something we do all our lives, but we tend to be defeated more often.”

Selected Quotes From Draaisma’s Recent Interview With Gareth Cook, Scientific American

Roughly three in four first memories are associated with negative emotions.

Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, there is no such a thing as deliberate forgetting. Rather the reverse, we seem to have a very tenacious type of memory for the things we would gladly forget, such as childhood humiliations, embarrassing situations or scenes you had rather not witnessed. But even if there were some technique of forgetting, of editing at will what you remember or forget, most people tell me they would hesitate to do so.

Without painful memories you may find yourself repeating painful situations. So, not being able to forget what you dearly would like to forget may actually be a blessing in disguise.

Two Quotes From Draaisma’s Interview With Yale Books

I was intrigued by the phenomenon that my dear colleagues sometimes remember my ideas, but seem to have forgotten that is was my idea. This is a case of ‘cryptomnesia’…When someone presents an idea, different aspects of this situation get processed in different types of memory. Semantic memory takes care of the meaning of the idea, its connection with other ideas, and so on. Autobiographical memory retains the fact that it was this particular person who came up with the idea. Semantic memory helps you remember the facts, the information, but does a poor job in retaining the circumstances in which you acquired these facts.

When you wake up from a dream you wake up with the final scene in the dream-story, for instance that you are trapped in a cellar. Then you try to reconstruct how you came there and may remember that you were hiding there because someone had entered your home. So you try to reconstruct your dream by following it against the direction of time, backwards. And this implies that you have no help of what normally helps you to remember stories, such as the fact that causes come first and effects later or questions first, answers later. And since working backwards is a time-consuming thing, the beginning of the dream will have faded once you get there. Remembering a dream is like watching the movie Memento.