the forgetfulness of disuse

Danger Will Robinson: negative, rambling verbage ahead that makes no actual point! Aka, bantmof bums himself out :slight_smile:

I was digging through a bunch of old boxes of crap that I’ve had sitting around for years and years, and I discovered some old textbooks and notes from my undergraduate days at university back in nineteen …caugh, ahem… let’s just say a while ago.

I started looking through my lecture notes, and I was somewhat taken aback to be reading things in my own handwriting that I can no longer make any sense of. There are formulas that I no longer even recognize, let alone know how to apply - out of context I couldn’t have even told you what discipline they belonged to. Esoteric mathematics that once made sense to me but no longer does. Proofs I cannot understand. Circuit diagrams where I could not even figure out what the hell they implemented, even though I apparently designed them. Solutions to problems I couldn’t solve today to save my sorry butt.

It was depressing, to realize how much is gone; vanished to wherever it is that neglected things vanish to. And what the hell was the point of spending all that effort to learn it in the first place? This stuff is all presumably still just as useful for figuring out whatever it figures out as it ever was, it’s just that I used to understand it and no longer do, and thus am no longer able to figure those things out.

That’s not to say I haven’t learned anything since. But too much of it is “junk knowledge” - the names of the actors in this or that movie, the winner of this and such sporting event, quotes by some or another politician, lyrics to some long forgotten pop song, the relative babe-itude of various supermodels.

Oh, there are useful things mixed in, no doubt - largely things I need to do my job, and a whole smattering of “high level” things about a lot of topics. But the depth has gone from all but a few areas, and now there’s just breadth - the sort of 30,000 foot views you might get from SciAm or Discover.

The whole experience definately left me feeling like I’m steadily getting dumber as I get older. On a day to day basis, it’s not noticeable - I haven’t forgotten much since, say, last Tuesday, except where I left my car keys. But over decades, there’s a difference. It’s like the world is fuzzier now, less comprehensible, as if the glasses through which I peer at it become increasingly opaque with time.

Sorry, I don’t have any real point here… But I’ve a newfound respect for the sorts of people who keep on knowing what they know, even into old age. I’ve met people like, folks in their 70’s, 80’s, who retain all the theory they ever knew, where you feel they could step in with nary moment’s notice and teach any class they ever took. I am more impressed at that now. :slight_smile:

peas on earth

Oh, yes indeedy, oh MY, yes…

When I looked through all my college stuff Igot caught in this weird dissonance: I didn’t want to throw it away because I’d sweated blood over it; I wanted to pitch it quickly because I couldn’t remember so much of it; I wanted to keep it like Cliff’s Notes for myself, from myself, to take another crack at absorbing it.

It was so weird; tests and essays, in my handwriting (which was a lot neater then), and I read them thinking, “Hot DAMN, that’s impressive!”–but it was like reading something someone else had written. Thank God I’m not the only one. I’d seriously considered Alzheimer’s.

Know what was even worse? Transcripts.
Two graduate degrees, and there were entire courses that I couldn’t even recall. Nada. Blank. I aced 'em, but couldn’t remember what the classrooms looked like, the professors, the course content…

Maybe I should reconsider the Alzheimers thing…

My feeble rationalization is (quoting my Dad), we’re equipped with efficient 'forgetters". Stuff, data, factoids get filtered out as our databank grows. (I’m paraphrasing here; he was a MAJOR brain, but “computerized” only later in life.)

We absorb the patterns and connections and put aside the details. As we accrue knowledge, we know the facts exist and how to retreive them, but the brainpower goes toward integrating everything we’ve learned. In essence, the brain extracts the nuances and implications of what we’ve learned. To supply power for the more sopohisticated functions of integrating knowlege, some of the building blocks are “forgotten”.

BTW, that’s why I’m an SD junkie. It’s amazing how many “facts” I’ve forgotten or had dead wrong. Many a house of playing cards has tumbled because of rude reality.

Sorry, I’m REALLY rambling here. Anyway, by the simple fact that you’re hanging around here, you keeping the ol’ brain limber. Besides, (w/ belated apologies to Kryptonite), I’d rather be slow roasted over a smokeless fire before slogging my way thorugh some of those classes again.

Not even that old,

Hey, lookie, these folks took NOTES in college! ::giggle::

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Let me add a note of brightness to this…

I’m in the same boat, where I’ve forgotten entire courses. But you know what? Recently I had to dig back into circuit design that I haven’t touched for 15 years. At first, it was all just symbols and nonsense. But after an hour or so of really studying it, it all came flooding back. So the memories are still there somewhere, it’s just that your brain has put this stuff in the equivalent of its dead-letter file. If you need to use it again, you’ll be back up to speed in 1/10 the time it took you the first time around.