Friday, May 28, 2004

"Before you can recall, you must forget"

One of those strange pearls of wisdom dropped from this surreal Japanese screensaver I just downloaded called Hotel Magritte. The screensaver shows a series of rooms inside said Hotel, populated by a random combination of engraved images, along with strange titles like 'Room No. 24 Unearthly Indication' or 'Room No. 25 Wishful Rotary'. 'Sadistic Hesitation' (Room 27), for example, is a carp floating in the middle of an empty room.

Once in a while though, you're treated to a choice quotation from the "general manager", usually in the kind of dubious Japlish we used to find on our pencil boxes:

"The name is you? Or you are the name?"
"Would you prefer to take the breakfast after the dinner or before the dinner?"
"Does your name represents yourself?"

So anyway, I glanced across to my powerbook and saw this quote:
"Before you can recall, you must forget"
and it just stuck in my mind. I suddenly realised it makes sense: recall presupposes that the item being "remembered" has disappeared from your immediate/surface/short-term memory - otherwise recall would not be required. Memory is dependent upon and defined by, forgetting - which means maybe we've been getting it all wrong by focusing on recall. Maybe we should be examining the process of forgetting, not as the loss of information, but the transfer of information from one type of memory to another. The more efficiently you manage the process of transfering immediate memory to enduring memory, the easier the process of recall subsequently. And since we can only hold 7 items in short-term memory, it makes sense to keep items moving out of that short-term memory as quickly as possible, and to consciously manage that process (rather than just "letting it happen") - in other words, the better you forget, the better you remember. Just as we view recall as an active process, a conscious effort, forgetting should also be an active choice, rather than a passive process.

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