Why Do We Forget?

I mean, what part of the brain is it that is NOT working when we forget things? I’m not talking about memory problems associated with some sort of brain injury. I’m talking about common, garden-variety forgetfulness, like why can I never remember where my glasses are, if they are not on my face, and why can I remember my mother’s birthday, but not my grandmother’s? And am I the only female on the planet who cannot remember her own wedding anniversary? I know it’s at the end of November. My husband and my mother say it’s the 29th. But I consistently want to say it’s the 28th. If someone can help me out with this, I promise to print the answer, and not forget where I’ve put it. :slight_smile:

My wife has the same problem and she conquered with these steps: First…I forgot it now…

You don’t foget. The information is still there. It is your inability to recall it that is lacking. Well that is one theory anyway.

Your memory is like a large filing system in your head. Information that is important to you, or that you need frequently is kept in the front of the top drawer with a big, easy-to-read label. Information that you don’t think that is very necessary gets put in the back where it collects dust. It stays there until something makes you look there. (Cross referencing.)

Now then, one’s memory is a tricky thing. It doesn’t matter if your anniversary is on the 29th if you keep reinforcing your belief that it is the 28th. That cannot be corrected until your psyche realizes that that bit of information is incorrect and is always incorrect. Then you can accept the correct information.

Next, the car keys/eyeglasses thing is a little different. That information is kept in short-term memory. It is more like a Post-it® note. After a short while, the adhesive wears out and that information falls behind the desk. If, however, you always put your keys/eyeglasses in the same place, that info becomes long-term memory. And since that info is frequently needed, it’s very easy to remember. So much so, you don’t even think about it.

Now if only I can figure out why, “Istanbul, not Constantinople” by They Might Be Giants, keeps popping in my head at inopportune times…

Carpe hoc!

So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul.

Aaaaagghh! Not again!
Damn you, aseymayo!

“Take me back to Constantinople.
No, you can’t go back to Constantinople.
Been a long time gone, Constantinople.
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks!”

Well, I’m not up on this stuff, but for some time the hippocampus, a small part of the brain, has been held to handle short-term memory and control transfer to and from the brain’s main and other cortices, as I understand it. Biological memory is not a “large filing system in your head”. Information is associatively, distributedly stored in the neural nets which logically operate on it, in the main cortex, the hippocampus and other specialized areas.

You can check out such Websites as these and many more:



When you get through, you may have your PhD and tell me what I said wrong in the above.

Ray (Blame the seahorse.)

Cristi, thanks.The glasses seem to on top of my head.

NanoByte, thanks for the references :slight_smile:

I really get tired in here of the ‘pop-off-the-top-of-my-head’ answers that the know-it-alls love to provide. Amazing what admitting you don’t know can do for you; even more amazing what you can find once you make that admission. :slight_smile:

Reminds me of a post-card I once had that read: Those of you who think you know it all are really annoying those of us who do. :wink:

Gee, DSY, you’re just no fun anymore.

Ok, I’ve had a chance to go over the links posted above. I’m no neurobiologist, so the terminology is a bit difficult to follow. However, there is very little information there about “forgetting”. (Except references to “failure of transmission”.) Plenty of info on how we learn and remember, but still, the OP remains unanswered. “Why do we forget?”

Now then, NanoByte, I did not say that memory was a large filing system in your head. I said it was like a large filing system in your head. Perhaps you and DSYoungEsq should do a web search on “similes”.

When I wrote that, I was attempting to explain how information is stored so that the most needed was easily accessible, while other tidbits of info begin to crumble from disuse. Obviously, some folks are not going to be happy without a more technical description, so I will attempt to come up with one.

Carpe hoc!

I like the Post-It note/short term memory analogy, MrKnowItAll. Makes sense to a clueless layperson such as myself. But what I’d really like to know is this–WHY do I have so many Post-It’s stuck all over my freaking HOUSE, instead of in my BRAIN, where they belong? :slight_smile:

OK, now I have to do this again because Netscape crashed on me and both my machine and this message-board system forgot what I said here before, apparently. (So much for “filing systems”.)


That filing system perched on your neck all day long sounds like the source of a major headache to me.

OK, similes are fun: Humans are like chairs with two legs broken off. It’s possible they’ll both stand up for a while in the fray.

Yeah, so your simile comes complete with bookworms that make the unused info crumble. I don’t exactly see how that simile explains anything, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. (I guess my English teacher called that a ‘metaphor’, though, rather than a ‘simile’.) I regard a simile as a binocular smile. :wink: (2 'i’s)

Another one of these people here who know why the chicken crossed the road, but now want to know why it didn’t cross the road.

It seems to me that, if you know what’s necessary to make memory work, you know what wasn’t there when it didn’t. . .Like ‘forget’ = ‘not remember’, doesn’t it? You must be an auto mechanic who keeps reading that message “Assembly is the reverse of disassembly,” and since it never is, you don’t believe ‘forget’ = ‘not remember’. 'Samatter? You don’t like my similes. Well, OK, I think you should leave them to English teachers and get down to nuts ‘n’ bolts.

So you want subjective psychobabble answers to the question of this thread?:





Some books:




But if it’s a real problem, you have to be nuttier and boltier about it:


I like objective nuts-‘n’-bolts answers. It seems to me there are basically two types of cause of why people and animals forget: 1. Trauma or acute or chronical neurochemical imbalance which messes up either recording info to or retrieving info from neural nets and 2. more recent recording of related info that readjusts the synaptic weightings in the relevant neural-net regions, i.e., writeover. Memory is distributed and not wiped out whole-hog, but at least old neural nets are pretty finite, so that they do work less reliably as excessive amounts of info are attempted to be distributedly stored in them by compromising on synaptic weightings. Of course, both causes can come into play in a given case, say in know-it-all Altzheimer’s patients.

Here’s your homework on artificial neural nets:


Skip out down under to learn:

“Studying how neural networks forget. As well learing new information, a network must also have the ability to forget
outdated information.”



Someone’s artistic idea of a way to forget:

Ray (I think; therefore I forget. So what was the question?)

Geez-o-pete! It’s a link avalanche! Run for the hills! :wink:

Okay, maybe my “filing cabinet” simile (which incidentally is not the same thing as a metaphor) was a bit unfortunate. Maybe it was a huge over-simplification. I can live with that. I’m just passing on my take on what I’ve read and heard. We’re all hear to learn and to pass on what we know.

BTW, “forgetting” may not be as simple as you put it. Leading memory researcher Dr. Eric Kandel recently found that there may be things in the brain whose job it is to erase connections that no longer serve a purpose. I’ve found a reference to an article published in Science magazine on this, but I haven’t been able to find the text on the web. This may have to wait until my next trip to the library. (If anyone else is wanting to check it out, the reference said that it was the January 16th issue, but it didn’t say what year.) Science magazine’s website seems to require a subscription to read it on the web.

One more thing, I adopted the name MrKnowItAll as an intentionally self deprecating joke on myself. I don’t claim to actually “know it all”. I just enjoy acting like I do.

Carpe hoc!

Funny how you can get up off the couch to get something in the kitchen but not know what it was when you get there.
I find that by retracing my steps it comes back at the spot it fell out.
Weird huh.


Dave Barry’s theory is that our brains are filled with useless and annoying information like all the words to every bad pop song and commercial jingle. The important stuff is lost in there somewhere. Similar to the Homer Simpson theory that every time you learn something, you lose something.

Homer: “Remember when I took the wine-making course and forgot how to drive?”
Marge: “Homer, you were drunk!”
Homer: “And how!”

Yeah, that’s what happens to me, TennHippie. My brain just gets “full.” :wink:

I tried & tried to understand those links, but apparently my brain is too full of bad song lyrics to make any sense of it. But I do have a 2 year old and a kid on the way…so maybe my hormones just won’t let me understand ("You’re too busy gestating! Stick to Reader’s Digest, will you?)

My short-term memory has never been good, but now I’m wondering something else. I do have epilepsy, but it’s very well-controlled with medication. I didn’t have my first grand-mal seizure until I was 16, but my parents suspect I may have been having petit-mal seizures for much longer than that (they just thought I was “drifty”) Could the seizures or the medications I’ve taken be messing with my short-term memory?

Similie: A comparison between to objects or ideas using ‘like’ or ‘as’.

Metaphor: A comparison between to objects or ideas using ‘is’.

Yes, Cristi, seizures and meds can both mess with short-term memory. Of course, grand mal seizures do a more thorough job than petit mal, and the ;osses to meds depend on what you’re taking and the dosage. It’s a long time since I had anything to do with this, so don’t trust me for details. Hope you keep it under control!

And another metaphor, just because it occurred to me. Your long-term memory is this board, and short-term is what you’re typing on the Reply page. The search engine doesn’t always work, and a seizure or a big drunk is hitting the Clear Fields button by mistake.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

The abstract of the article of which Eric Kandel is only one of the authros is:

This abstract doesn’t tell me much, except that they’re postulating part of the action as removal of an inhibition, and then only on the basis of analogy (another scientist messed up by an English teacher?) to something not all that similar. (OK, so I have to take the brake off before I engage the clutch.)

Yeah, my short term memory has been going down the tubes the last 5 years or so. I solved the problem of forgetting-when-I-get-to-the-kitchen. . .by not having a kitchen. But that approach has its limitations. :wink: Whatever happened to all the smart-drug experimenters of a decade or more ago? Did they mostly give up? Maybe I can fix the problem by implanting a few chips that regulate secretion of a few dozen neurotransmitters. :wink:

Ray (MrDunnoTheHalfOfIt)