Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Would You Scrap Old Memories for New Space

There was a very interesting article in the NYT today about how research with mice indicates that the reason older people find it difficult to learn new things or remember new things is because their brain is chock full. It's like trying to get one more pair of pants in the suitcase. Only you can't sit on it.

Or as the article said trying to write on a piece of paper already covered with writing.

If you could take a pill to discard some useless memories or information from years ago--such as how to play pac man or who was in your second grade class, would you? Kind of like ETERNAL SUNSHINE but with memories rather than feelings.

If it made it easier for you to learn new skills and remember where you put the car keys, is it worth it?

Sidebar-when Phil sees me pick up the science page, he groans. He knows I will tell him he needs to make some change and fast. 

13 comments:

Rob Kitchin said...

I think I'm okay on this one. The rate I forget stuff, I'm probably keeping pace re. learning new stuff! I'm forever having to read my own books/papers so I can tell students how to do something!

John said...

I question this research. Learning difficulty in older people is caused by a crowded brain filled with memories and other learning? I don't buy into that. There is a lot of research that demonstrates the ability of the brain to be remapped and for new pathways to be created through new learning regardless of a "crowded house." It's more about keeping up with learning on a daily basis. So much of our learning becomes rote over time and turns into habit. And that's where the danger lies. I'm always trying to learn new things each month. For example, I jump at the chance to help out with repair projects at our condo and learn how to use power tools I've never handled before. Curiosity and a desire to learn I think are key to any new learning. I'm not really worried about running out of space, I'm more worried about becoming a monument to inactivity and indifference. Learning itself should become the habit.

Randy Johnson said...

It would be hard to decide what needed discarded. Would you be the same person? You are the sum total of your experiences.

Deb said...

I was talking with my oldest friend (we met in 6th grade, over 40 years ago) and we were talking about someone we remembered vaguely from elementary school? Or was it junior high? And was he in my home room or hers? And did he date that girl from my biology class? Anyway, it was like we had completely different (and very sketchy) memories. I think it was Anais Nin who said memory is a great betrayer. None-the-less, I don't think I'd give up my memories, however imperfect, because they define who I am.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

No, I would not do this. I lost thirty minutes when I was a kid due to a concussion. It still haunts me to this day. Especially when I can't remember other things I want to.

pattinase (abbott) said...

If there was a way to just dispense with useless information-obsolete stuff--I might do it. But one person's useless information is another's defining moment.

R.T. said...

If I am reading your posting correctly, I wonder why I still have a memory problem. According to the theory, if I discard memories, there is certainly room for more. Well, I can't remember how much I have now forgotten, but there does not seem to be room for more information. I'm hopeless. Perhaps it has something to do with how I lived in the 60s and 70s. Ah, the good old days. (I think!)

Cap'n Bob said...

It would give me a great excuse not to repay a loan. "Gee, Jim, I'd be glad to give you that fifty you say I owe you, but I have no recollection of borrowing it."

And what about the old saw about us utilizing only 20% of our brains? Or is it 20% of our minds, and that's a separate standard?

But yeah, I can think of a lot of things I have no need of remembering. Dumb comments, humiliations, bad choices--I'd be glad to forget a lot of them.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - This is really an interesting question. I know there are a few things I'd be willing to give up, but I always feel a sense of loss when I know I've forgotten something. It would be hard to know exactly what I'd be willing to 'part with.'

Al Tucher said...

Hah. I can't do either--remember anything old or retain anything new.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm pretty skeptical about that article suggesting that brains get 'full' of memories. New learning can occur easily even into old age. A lot of the problems people have is not with the memories perse, but with how they are organized. Organized new memories can be remembered as well as old memories.

George said...

As a guy with 30,000 books or so, I'm hardwired not to get rid of stuff...even memories. My son buys portable hard drives and downloads thousands of songs from his laptop on a regular basis. I'd do that with my memories if I could. But I'd never off-load memories of you, Megan, or Phil!

Todd Mason said...

Of course, ETERNAL SUNSHINE was all about memories. The feelings were removed only to the extent they were dependent on memory.

It's an old notion, the blivet-mind. I think I'll throw in with John on the skeptical approach to this study.

And, like Randy and yourself, I can't imagine that one could sensibly figure out what to lose.