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This web site is interested in forgetting only as it is related to common everyday lapses of memory, such as those that make us forget where we parked the car or left our keys. Unless they are of interest for other reasons, these pages do not present links related to the loss of memory in conditions like dementia. There are dozens of other web sites on that topic.

There are two approaches in the links to this category. One focuses on why and how we forget, and on the possibility that memories might be erased intentionally. This is related to the malleability and unreliability of memory discussed in links elsewhere on this site. The second deals with the value of forgetting, the importance of clearing out the mind.

Limits of memory retrieval allow us to live in the present

As much as we might sometimes wish otherwise, forgetting is a survival mechanism for most of us. It helps us go through daily life and keeps us from losing complete control of the circumstances around us.

To remember, the brain must actively forget

If this research is getting close to the truth, forgetting is even more important that we thought. Instead of being a defect in our memory, it seems to be a necessary part of our mental make-up, the default setting for our brains.

How to erase bad memories

A look at how neuroscience is taking advantage of the way we store, retrieve, and  use memories.

How do people lose their memories?

An overview of the neurological basis of amnesia.

Memory erasure

Forgetting is a natural, even indispensable, part of remembering. We can’t hold everything in our heads, and parts of our brains need to be cleared out if we are to remember the things we will need later.

Memory, forgetting and Propranolol: Should some experiences never be recalled?

Some memories jolt us so much that we want to forget them. According to the article, there’s a drug for that.


Henry Molaison: The incredible story of the man with no memory

An article about the most famous, and most studied, amnesiac of the 20th century, whose conditions resulted from the catastrophic failure of an experimental procedure to cure his epilepsy. This involved removing parts of the brain, including the memory circuits in the temporal lobe, plus the left and right amygdala, but it left the subject in a permanent state of amnesia. Still, it’s amazing to see what he did remember.

Researchers claim memories can be ‘rewritten’

If this becomes widespread, we will be able to consciously get rid of the parts of the past we don’t like.

Scientists target and block a specific memory

It takes time for memories to move from short-term storage in the brain to long-term storage. This research used a drug to intercept a memory before it had time to solidify. Interesting, even frightening, implications for human application.

The persistence and transience of memory

A lengthy, highly technical study contending that the purpose of memory is not to transmit information about the past, but to guide intelligent decision-making. Forgetting is not seen as a failure of memory but one device toward this goal.

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Review: In praise of forgetting: Historical memory and its ironies by David Rieff

Two reviews of a book with a compelling argument not to dredge up the past but to let it stay in the past, because that is where history belongs.

Emile Weaver and the dangers of denial

Denial is pushing the present away. That is obviously related to suppressing the past.

When ‘never forget’ becomes ‘I don’t remember’

As traumatic as an event might be, its traces in the brain can be deleted by dementia. This story offers a compelling reason for writing about as much and as deeply about our life as we can, and soon rather than late.

The human fear of total knowledge

What parts of our history do we remember and how do we document it? Here is a discussion of how Jorge Luis Borges imagined an institution that would keep humanity from forgetting anything it had ever discovered or created. The implications are complex.

In telling their life stories, we seek to restore dignity to society’s ‘ghosts’

When people can no longer remember, their stories need not be lost if those who can remember take the time to tell their stories.

What amnesiacs tell us about memory: Q&A with Brenda Milner

A look at neurosurgery of the 1950s, which showed which part of the brain contains memory.

Life stories #61: David Stuart MacLean

Memoir involves the reconstruction of the past. But what is an amnesiac to do? That is a person who has actually lost the past and has to reconstruct the life that came before. This podcast is an interview with a writer, now a memoirist, who lost his memory and created a fictional past for himself just to make sense of the present. Then he had to go back and pick up the pieces.

Which memory can I erase for you today?

Remembering and forgetting are essential aspects of our identity and our sense of where we are in the world. We empathize with people who lose track of the past because we understand that they are beginning to lose their selves. This article reflects the recent debate over whether people should be able to delete some of their memories.

How forgetting helps us to learn

A study finding that learning and forgetting are part of the same process.

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Don’t panic about forgetting things! Memory loss can be GOOD for our brains by strengthening other things we’ve learned, study says

More research on an old subject, with comfort for those who fear that they are losing it.

What do you know: Why do people forget what they learn?

We do not forget all things at the same rate. We are far more likely to forget a lesson if we crammed for a test overnight than if we study the material over a number of weeks. And we are more likely to forget it than a memory of childhood, though all of those memories are subject to decay. This essay goes into the subject in greater detail.

Josh Freed: Faces, names and food — and the mysteries of memory

People are different, and so are their memories.

Why do we forget?

Because we do not stop perceiving the world after we register information, memories fade, get disguised, and shift in various parts of our brain.

9/11 and the inevitability of forgetting

The passage of time is one of the most important filters that affect our memories. So much happens to alter the past in our mind, or to diminish its significance.

Just a mild case of amnesia got you forgetting?

The other side of the coin.

What is Dory Syndrome? Everything you need to know about the memory loss condition anterograde amnesia

A basic primer on why some people develop memory leaks, and what they can do about it.

Executive suffers sudden memory loss

There are times when it’s appropriate to have your head examined. This is one of them.

Mr. Nobody: The bizarre story of Sywald Skeid

White, five-nine, one-fifty. Otherwise, little is known about this man, especially his past. He is a man without meaningful memory, whose mind can recall incidents but no contexts. How does such a person forge a future?

As dementia sets in, artists still recall drawing from memory

Individuals retain their creative abilities long after many other means of communication fade. It is well known that people with dementia can sing or play music they heard years before. Now studies show that drawing talent can also remain. If only we could figure out how to make the aging brain continue to recall and transmit words as well!

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Forgetting the past and the future: new insights into mechanisms of anxiety

We cannot, should not, remember everything. It is important to forget the traumas of the past if we are to forestall anxieties and fears in the future.

The scientist who can erase memories says you’re not allowed to use it after a break-up

Memories may be selective, but the ability to forget them is not, even though science is on the verge of allowing people to delete some of them.

Remembering the need to forget

Forgetting is an essential part of remembering. What does this mean in an age when no virtual memory is expunged from the record?

Book review: ‘How we learn: The surprising truth about when, where and why it happens’ by Benedict Carey

Analysis of a book that contains many insights about learning, remembering, and forgetting, including a discussion of why forgetting is essential to memory.

What is fugue state? How I ended up forgetting my life and taking on a new one

A first-person narrative about temporary forgetfulness and living a separate life.

A memorable book about forgetting

Artist’s memory loss fuels discoveries about the brain

People who “lose their memory” do not forget everything. Some processes, talents, and habits remain. Here are two articles about a book exploring what happens to a person who lives with short-term memory only.

What would you do without your memory? The nature of forgetting play at Shoreditch Town Hall explores what remains within us

To a certain degree, memory comprises a great part of identity. Too many people lose that because of dementia. This drama probes the issue.

My forgetfulness may annoy my family, but it has its benefits

A quirky article arguing that if memory is important, then perhaps forgetting is crucial. The author points out that what we forget is as much a part of what we become as what we remember.

A woman’s memoir based on the accounts of friends and family

Memory is a valuable and fragile resource. To move ahead in life, we can even use the memory of others. In this book, not being able to remember is the beginning of the story.

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How brains forget memories through two distinct mechanisms

“Attempting to forget” may seem paradoxical, but there are a couple of ways of doing it.

Remember, remember

New studies suggest why forgetting is an important aspect of memory and why people become less capable of forming new memories as they age.

The man who lost his memory but gave much to neuroscience

The man who forgot everything

Two in-depth articles about the most famous, and most studied, amnesiac of the 20th century

The science of forgetting: unlocking the secrets of memory loss from infant amnesia to alzheimer’s

Research on how and when and why we begin to remember, and on how to offset the impulse to forget.

Forgetting as part of remembering

How we feel about the past has as much to do with what we have forgotten as with what we retain. This essay examines the close link between remembering and forgetting.

Being absent-minded has a big advantage, according to neuroscience

Memories may be about the past, but their greatest benefit is that they help us face the future.

The need to forget

Forgetting is a creative skill. It has its requirements and benefits.

The brain basis of forgetting

A cautionary essay, including reasons why multitasking can create more problems than it solves.

Come to think of it or not: Study shows how memories can be intentionally forgotten

It may seem obvious that you remember something when you try to forget it; the reality is more complex than that.

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So forgetting is good for you. But why does it have to be my friends’ names?

Much recent research has shown that we stay sharp by routinely forgetting nonessentials and trivia. But we also forget items we later wish we had remembered.

Forgetting can make you smarter

My father was fond of saying that there’s no such thing as useless knowledge. It all depends on what you might need to know later. The same is true of memories. They are useless only if you don’t need them later.

How to be better at forgetting

For individuals, as for groups, remembering sometimes leads to negative consequences. How do we know when to let go of a memory? and how do we do it?

The importance of forgetting: Why a bad memory is a good memory

The purpose of human memory is not to store information but to organize information so we can understand and predict the world.

The awful wonder of memory

It takes discipline to live in the present moment. But if we spend much of our life avoiding the present, we will later be forced to return to it wistfully and perhaps with regret.

Fear of losing memory is not productive

Some older people waste lots of energy worrying about whether they are losing it. What most are really losing is confidence in their memory.

Ben Bradlee’s memories and the science of forgetting

Insights into why we can be surprised by the layout of rooms in the house we grew up in when we return after many years, even though we think we won’t forget anything about the place where we ate, slept, played when we were young.

How do I improve my memory? Forget more!

Forgetting is an essential part of remembering. It allows us to ignore the past and to get on with living.

From comics history to personal memory

Some fascinating thoughts about remembering and forgetting, and the way past and present are connected by artist and reader in comic books and in life.

In praise of forgetting, by Jonathan Silin

In an age of information overload it is easy to worry about our overcrowded brains. We sometimes envy the person with photographic memory. But this senior has a very different slant on the matter.


10 struggles forgetful people know all too well

Ten good reasons always to keep a pen and paper ready.

Why we forget most of the books we read

This research finally gives a good reason why cramming for an exam isn’t the best way to remember the material.

How do we remember and why do we often forget?

Just as there are many ways to remember, there are many reasons to forget. This article describes some of them.

Forget a lot? You’re not gonna believe this

Now you can stop worrying about whether you’re losing it, and just start using it.

Is it only forgetting?

Focus is the key to remembering. The fact that we can’t normally focus on everything often results in embarrassment and wasted energy,

Four reasons why we forget people’s names

A non-technical look at the fickleness and occasional unreliability of memory

Dementia systematically dismantles a person, one memory at a time

When others lose memories, we are reminded of how fragile our existence really is.

Fofrgetting names and faces?

A reminder not to take this all so seriously.

Living with dementia: Gerda Saunders tells her story before she forgets

For one reason or another, everybody’s memory will one day be gone. The only way to preserve some of it is to write about it.

Memories are made of this – but not that

Knowing how and why we forget may comfort many people