Forgetting

21 May

One theme that has come up in my life lately is forgetting. Keep in mind, what I’m not talking about is forgetfulness (which to me is more absent-mindedness than forgetting–most people I know that are forgetful just aren’t paying attention, for good or for ill.)

Forgetting can have negative connotations, for forgetting a person or a place, aren’t we losing parts of ourselves? I mean even significance doesn’t really fight much against the white wall that envelopes everything and everybody we know sooner or later. I’m thinking of widows who really try to save every piece of their dead partners and lose them anyway. C.S. Lewis once described it as watching snow slowly cover a familiar landmark, until it’s piled over with snow and the landmark is swallowed up and looks like everything else.

I’m also thinking of a study done in the fifties of people with mental illness due to trauma. How the scientists systematically wiped their minds, and how the mental illness did not go away with the memories, instead, they had mental illness and memory problems.

However, I’m also thinking in terms of how the brain must have ways to discard less useful information. Systems that do not work any longer for instance, however consciousness does not pick which things to keep and which things to discard, which is why I can remember the names of every single one of my elementary school teachers, but cannot remember certain conversations that would be very useful now.

However, I’m firmly of the camp that realizes that memories are not kept in amber–they live and change in our minds as we live and change. My memories of childhood have been altered, even if just slightly, in the years since. Am I forgetting things that lose their significance, or because they get cut out to fit my current worldview? It’s hard to say, because any of the information involved has been forgotten, so I can’t look at it and say, oh, so that’s the sort of thing I drop out of my brain.

Not to mention that our brains have filters that tune out a HUGE amount of data coming in that we deem as irrelevant and unnecessary.

However, forgetting has its place–forgetting allows us new chances–forgetting diminishes the power of past events, forgetting takes out the emotional heaviness of conflict of the past, lets us start new, fresh, to see beyond the patterns we have been through already.

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