Below excerpt from A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887.
My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”
“To forget it!”
“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
“But the Solar System!” I protested.
“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”
The brain actually does a lot of lossy compression tricks to remember things together, plus I doubt that knowledge about the Solar system takes up any significant amount of space in the brain, since physics works with models. Very "compressible" information, really. But if we look at how much lore people remember about modern pop-culture trivia, like comics or TV series or games, it's a different story. The amount of mental effort and "mind space" that fans dedicate to remembering, say, World of Warcraft lore is mindblowing to me at times.
To be fair, the effectiveness of multi-disciplinary research seems to only have been acknowledged in recent decades, even though by and large the biggest breakthroughs have almost always been thanks to people looking outside of the silos of their field. The sciences are really "tribal", and it used to be much worse.
For example, when I started studying in the early 2000s I remember the ML bachelor (then: AI) having recently split off from CompSci and being super-territorial.
I also heard stories of CompSci having split off from mathematics a few decades before that, and during my Interaction Design (IxD) master I learned that it separated from HCI in the nineties (short version: HCI was idolising the methods of the quantitative sciences too much for its own design-oriented good, IxD decided to bring in methods and insights from the qualitative fields).
I wonder if this was better or worse in Doyle's time.
So one option could be that music arises partly from our motor functions to begin with.
Ha ha, well put. Although poetry is sort of like music, a bit, at least rhyming poems are. Just looked it up, this article is interesting:
Incidentally, I first read the Chinese version of "A Study in Scarlet". And I remember vividly (because I read it many times) what Sherlock said was translated as "Even if I had known it I would have tried to forget it". It wasn't until I read your comment did I realize it's actually "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it." Funny.
Doyle was a crank.
For example, your phone can dial dozens or hundreds of your friend's phones without you remembering their numbers. This means you never need to use their phone numbers and hence don't remember them. A reasonable question you might ask is whether you are now free to spend that brainpower memorizing other, more useful things? Or are you actually less capable of memorizing other things because you are exercising your memory less?
There are other similar examples, for example password managers and even just general Google-able trivia. Is it a good thing or a bad thing for general intelligence that humans need spend less time memorizing these things?
When you have a piece of knowledge memorized, it has the capability to be activated in parallel with other known knowledge. These parallel activations result in a new / novel idea to your neural network. If these activations haven't been had before, they may be a breakthrough in science, technology, or otherwise.
So in one aspect, if you do not memorize, you can not associate and create new things.
Luckily, with phone numbers and locations it might not be important or valuable to have them memorized. But that's hard to say. Many scientific breakthroughs and discoveries were made by people who had cross-discipline knowledge and associated two things that no one thought were valuable together. Potentially, even googleable factoids could potentially contribute to a scientific breakthrough.
He also invented the now-famous algorithm for buying cars: you go to the dealer closest to your house, point to the car closest to the door, and say: "I'll take that one."
The algorithm wastes the least time on unimportant things (like buying cars) to leave you the maximum time for doing important things (like designing supercomputers).
Then I started cleaning up my attention span a bit, less social media, less mindless scrolling, more thoughtful long term tasks and planning. It helped a lot, but it wasn't perfect still.
Then one day I tried reading a number sequence once, not making a single noise in my brain, and I jotted it down again with ease. It seemed the secret for me was to trust my memory had the number in working memory somewhere, rather than trying to persist it my concious stream of thought which inevitably garbled it.
The brain is weird.
Names stick like 2 seconds around in my memory and are gone. Heck sometimes even a single person is an issue. My memory ain't greatest but for names specifically it is almost not writable. Tried few mind tricks but not really successful. I am sure there must be some way to get this to more acceptable level, anybody has any idea?
My theory is that, we don't internalise names and link it to the respective person for it to be anything memorable. but what do i know...
That happens to me too! PIN keys, or bank passwords I know I know, if I try to think to remember them, I'm unable to remember them correctly. Instead, just seeing the input interface, blank my brain and I start pressing keys... And I write them down perfectly!
Indeed, the brain is very weird.
Even though I'd tried loads of memory techniques over the years as I have a very poor memory, I'd never really understood people actually see images. I thought they meant that they were, like me, simply listing the properties the image would have in your head.
So all these techniques like "remembering the number as a picture" never worked well from me, and finally explained why all the common techniques people recommend are pretty useless. It turns out people have a huge variation on how good they are at visualising things in their minds eye, and I'm right near the bottom in terms of skill.
On the plus side it turns out that I can make images appear, having done some exercises to help it, although I didn't keep at it and it still doesn't come naturally. Most people can improve and there are very few cases of people not actually being able to do it. I also read of one man who'd had a stroke and lost his ability to picture things in his brain.
Oddly, I am very quick at generally orienteering myself in new places and picking up map layouts in games, even though I don't visualize anything in my head.
Funnily enough it never occurred to me to think of things as pictures for my whole childhood. Even though I am almost a completely visual thinker.
It’s worth thinking about how you think. Eg if I imagine time passing as images of numbers, I can keep track of time and talk at the same time. If I count them out in my head, I always loose track within seconds.
I do something similar for separating my hands on the piano, the left hand becomes a pattern rather than literal chords and I can picture the hand placement and still think of the melody. Forever a work in progress that is though.
She was capable of fluently talking about changes and the effects they would have on the design and so the fact that this could all happen without ever picturing the changes was super interesting.
It was, but that's not the point of this anecdote. This experience gave me the idea for the premise of a sci-fi story: a drug which, once taken, has no affect on you whatsoever outside of one crucial impact, which is that whatever happens while you're on it, you won't remember once it wears off a few hours later.
The scientific findings related in this article seem to indicate that developing such a drug would be possible. Would people take it? I suspect they would, although I also suspect that it would lead to regrettable behaviour. (That is probably, in fact, its chief advantage.) What about you - would you take it?
Are experiences less meaningful if you don't remember them?
You give the consultant the drug, then proceed to share your secrets with them and get their expert advice on your issue. Then by the end of the day/week/whatever they'll forget everything you told them and your secrets will be secure.
Edit: Did you edit your comment? I'm pretty sure you hadn't mentioned Paycheck. No problem, just making sure I'm not going crazy. :)
I also believe that if such a drug were available it would find first use in the military by certain specialist units.
short/longterm memories will be shot full of holes when on benzos for a while. even one night of benzo usage and you will forget most of the night, mix in a beer by accident and the whole night will be erased.
When it was finally released on the market, the dosage was a fraction of what he had take in his clinical trial.
benzos wipe out most of your ability to inhibit behavior along with your ability to form memories. it practically guarantees that you're a mess.
your concentration goes to shit, along with most of your higher functions... at least at the quantity that it takes to make you black out.
there are a lot of stories about what happens when the "xan man" (the xanax overdose state) comes out to play. most of them are bad.
Two more things: (i) I'm aware that not everybody thinks the same, mainly because fellow humans acts as a constant reminder of who you were before, and (ii) yes, sleeping is disturbing to me, I try not to think about it too much.
However, there's a variant that sucks my thoughts sometimes: what about transferring a full brain's backup into a valid recipient?
Classical application would be life extension: going into a "blank" body/brain (or big enough computer) when mine is too old to carry on. It's still very inconceivable nowadays, but much more attainable than teleportation I think.
You can't "switch off" the old brain, copy it, and "switch on" the new one, because that would pose the same questions as teleportation. Neither I wouldn't start a copy process, wait for it to complete, commit suicide and set alive the new body/brain in the same time.
The obvious solution would be to find a way to connect two brains (be it an organically or computerized brain), extend the thought in such a way that there would be full redundancy of memories between the two devices, and the switch off the old one.
I guess I read too much hard sci-fi :)
There's no reason to continue living in that situation if you can make amends or discover that they judged you in a faulty manner.
Life is for fucking up and growing, which requires feedback.
On the flip side, a drug that let you retroactively forget would be heavily used I bet. Traumatic experiences are often wished to be forgotten. Though, I wonder what a human would be like if they didn't have negative experiences. One who was able to remove a big portion of mind shaping experiences. Further yet, I wonder if your mind ever truly forgets. If a dog bites you as a kid, and then you take the forget pill, are you still afraid of dogs?
(actually, it is more of a dissociative effect - ketamine does that)
I haven't seen anybody seriously injured form this, but I've heard second hand stories.
Yet there are a few people who, it has elsewhere been claimed, can remember details from every day of their life, on demand. What's 'superfluous' to one of us may be essential to others... a strictly subjective judgement. Some of us are specialists, others generalists.
The trouble with such reporting is that there's little science involved, and a whole lot of anecdotal reportage. Of course, our brains are enormously complex, having to operate in a wide diversity of human and chemical environments. Given the number of variables, solid memory science has yet to emerge ... in articles like this one, at least.
"When the Bundy TV set blows its condenser, Al decides to try out for a place on a new sports trivia game show, hoping to win $10,000 for a new TV set as the first prize. But when he is denied because of his lack of personality, Al tries to transfer his knowledge of sports to Kelly to win the show for him. But for each fact that she takes in, another falls out."
What exactly does active genes mean here and how can they do that in a living slug and be different on both sides? Afaik, genes are mostly constant throughout one individuals' lifetime, and usually the same in all cells
With almost a GB of data in the DNA of a single cell and 100 billion human brain cells, the DNA sounds like a great storage medium for memories (725 exabytes)! But that's not how it works, right?
Note: the activity of a neuron and the activity of a specific gene (eg rac1) are two completely different kinds of activity. The first is electrochemical activity and the second is production activity. Where changes in production can change the physical number of receptors available for the electrochemcial process.
And I actually doubt we "forget" about it. It is not like a computer sudden decide to do GC and you have more memory space. I think our brains tends to archive those "useless" things into somewhere deep, that takes lot of energy and take it back out.
I don't believe information is lost in our brain, it is most encrypted, compressed ( lossy ) and stored differently.
There are linguistic studies which show that this is the norm (i.e. as a second language learner using said language daily, you begin to forget your mother tongue), but I have to admit it is quite disconcerting when I have to take a multi-second break to recall an uncommon word before I can carry the conversation further.
I guess the moral of the story is that, yeah, you forget things you don't actively use.
But what about memories as your brain, not pulling it from storage, but entirely regenerating the experience. So its remaking the cup every time, not pulling it from the cabinet.
False/faulty memory is common. We’re regenerating the experience inaccurately. Like if you drew a picture then had to draw it again. It would look the same but slightly different. The cup after all if stored would always be retrieved exactly as it was.
A quick search pulled up, for example, this piece:
"Unstable neurons underlie a stable learned behavior"
>Motor skills can be maintained for decades, but the biological basis of this memory persistence remains largely unknown. The zebra finch, for example, sings a highly stereotyped song that is stable for years, but it is not known whether the precise neural patterns underlying song are stable or shift from day to day. Here we demonstrate that the population of projection neurons coding for song in the premotor nucleus, HVC, change from day to day. The most dramatic shifts occur over intervals of sleep. In contrast to the transient participation of excitatory neurons, ensemble measurements dominated by inhibition persist unchanged even after damage to downstream motor nerves.
Brain circuitry truly is amazing. The connectome is vital to the function of the brain, and slight perturbations can severely damage that function; however, the connectome can change over night even in the context of precise motor skills. It's a sort of Catch-22.
Meaning that experiences that are similar enough gets overlaid each other, resulting in time flying past as we get older and to the same stuff day after day. This because we seem to experience time retroactively.
Within this analogy cache eviction strategies start to have massive effects on our ability to process information.
Basically, any finite organism only has a finite number of configurations available to it; but to 'remember' something is to a set up a long-term correlation between the past and the present, which uses up some of the 'available degrees of freedom' to e.g. respond to shorter-term changes in the environment.
If you never forget anything, then eventually you 'run out of bits', whereas a system that allows some forgetting has greater flexibility in e.g. forgetting the distant past in order to remember to tie your shoes right now.
There are some neuroscientists that are starting to bring thermodynamic views into looking at actual biological systems as well 
> For it is only by forgetting that we ever really drop the thread of time and approach the experience of living in the present moment.
Often I feel actively the urge to make free space in my mind to store new information. Technology helps me keeping offloading useless/unimportant facts and store them somewhere else, but the overload of information is being an issue
Most of the things I learned at school I forgot; all the math and so that I never need in my life. More than half of the curriculum is just rubbish for our brains IMAO.
Maybe this helps to start making compulsive education more pragmatic. At this moment I see kids coming from school knowing how to do advance math they'll never ever need. But basic knowledge about what is healthy food or not, or knowing how the industry is poisoning almost anything you can buy in the supermarket, they have no clue.. And I believe knowing those things do matter for our brain, we would not easily forget.
Learning things is not (just) about the facts you know afterwards. I read so many books I forgot at least half of what was written there, but my worldview and thinking was altered from that.
Not that the other stuff isn't very important too of course..
You've gained experience and you can identify what you don't remember. Even if you can't remember it it is no longer magic, which is invaluable by itself.
Also the process of learning these abstract concepts is arguably the most important skill you learn in higher education. You might recognize what is required and you do know how to pick it up when you are faced with it - or know when you need external help.
- short term memory: transaction journal
- long term memory: persistent table
- sleep: commit and garbage collection
As I often said, Computer Science can explain everything.
For Robert Calin-Jageman, it’s exciting that forgetting
seems to be a biological process like digestion or excretion
because that means it can, at least in theory, be ramped up