Science of Forgetting Part I

Today I would like to talk about forgetting. More about what we forget , Why we forget and How we Forget .

Why understanding this is important ? Since most of the times it not the ability to memorize but the ability to recall what we learned or memorized (or failure of memory ) is what troubles us. So if we know how to avoid this memory failure by understanding the basic science behind forgetting then we can boost our performance in exams.


Lets start by how memory Functions

There are three steps

Step 1 – Perceiving the Memory Event

Step 2 – Encoding the Memory Event (We will learn about encoding in detail in later posts)

Step 3- Retrieving the Memory Event

Now Lets see each event Step by step

Step 1- Perceiving the Memory Event

This step is when we actually tell our brain to remember anything. Suppose you are waiting for a Bus on a bus stop. You see many cars passing infront of you. However you do not remember their number or infact anything about them because you do not create that signal to your brain to create a memory event. Now suddenly if a car hits a pedestrian suddenly you start to focus on the details of car and trigger your brain to create a memory event (as you may need the information latter) so now the information of the car (Color, Make , Brand, Registration Number) are all available to your temporary memory for recall.

This step is crucial for many day to day memory lapses.

You forget names of People you meet ? Basically you never told your brain to remember it.

You forgot where you kept the Car / Room Keys ? Again you never created a memory event for it while you were keeping it.

Step 1- Encoding A memory Event

When you trigger a memory event as outlined in step 1 it is more likely that you have committed something to your temporary memory. However you will be more likely to loose the information if the transfer (encode) the information from your temporary or short term memory to Long Term memory.

This step is very exciting and can be done by variety of ways. Infact this step is the single most important for remembering facts for exams. The most common and rudimentary method is repetition. Suppose I give you a random series of letter to memorize you will read the letters and start repeating to remember it. Other method may be forming a Mneumonic which is again very basic way of encoding (I will tell you later why )

I will limit my discussion here to importance of encoding. However I will soon write a complete post on How to Encode memory to long term. But the point of discussion here is that if you fail to consciously encode the information it will not transfer from short term memory to long term memory and you are likely to forget it soon.

So If you see a car hitting a car (Which is Red Maruti Wagon R with Registration DL43 0347 ) You can think of someone with a Red Maruti Wagon R (Create a mental Picture of him driving the car and hitting the pedestrian and Try to remember the Number as 43 0 34 and 7 . You can imagine that the person who was hit was carrying a huge cardboard with numbers 43 and after the person who hit him he was down (as in became a zero and the   card now was on ground became 34 ) and it was lucky (7) that you were there to help the person.

Now the change that you remember everything even days after the accident are much higher.

So basically if you are re-reading something and not actually making a conscious effort to encode it to long term memory then not only it will take much more time but also you are more likely to forget the information when needed. I promise you I will do a complete article on innovating encoding science based techniques which memory wizards use in a later post.

Step 3- Retrieving the Memory Event

Now This is the last but again critical step. In this step you should understand that each event you have encoded should be followed by a retrieving clue. If that specific clue is not there then you will not be able to remember the memory event. How many times have you created and memorized something creating a mnemonic however fail to recall the mnemonic itself and hence even after following the step 1 & 2 you are still not able to recall anything.

The critical part is creating a memory trigger which will lead you to the code which you could decode the event remember everything.

For example in the above incident you can create the code as the person who owns the Red Maruti Wagon R. Once you remember you will be able to remember anything.

So understand the basic steps of the Memory Events is the first part of understand Memory Lapses (Science of Forgetting ) Which is why we forget and what we forget.

In the second part of this post I will explain HOW WE FORGET  understanding which you will be able to plan your study to reduce the amount of forgetting.

Visit us back in a day or two for the second part of this post.