Saturday, July 22, 2017
#203 / Forget About It
Ulrich Boser thinks it is "Good to Forget." Among other things, Boser contends that "relearning what you once knew makes you smarter." Benjamin Storm, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which is, of course, located right here in my own hometown, has made human memory, and forgetting in particular, the area of his major academic focus. Storm is cited by Boser as someone who now takes this "forgetting is good" idea quite seriously.
Speaking personally, I was very happy to hear about this theory, and that forgetting can be beneficial. For whatever reason, and age may have something to do with it, I tend to forget things rather quickly, particularly in the sense that I have no reliable "inner index" to what I know. I often cannot remember, for instance, if I read a particular book, or who wrote it, or what its main argument might have been. And yet, I know that I continue to make use of the books I've studied, as I start thinking and writing about a topic in which I have some interest. I "know" things without being able to say precisely what it is that I do know, and when I need the knowledge it "comes to me," as I am somehow able to resurrect past knowledge and use it in some new construction.
One book I have never forgotten, by Michael Polanyi, is called Personal Knowledge. In that book, Polanyi says that we "know" things that we cannot document or explain. He uses the knowledge of Antonio Stradivari as an example. Stradivari "knew" how to make violins better than anyone else, but that knowledge was "personal" to him. It could not be reduced to writing, or listed out in a set of instructions, and then transmitted to others. No one else could make violins as good as Stradivari's, even with such guidance. Stradivari obviously "knew" things he didn't even know he knew. Our "knowledge," in other words, is always "personal," not existing independently of ourselves. I take this to suggest that our knowledge is often, and maybe even "always," greater than the sum of the sources from which we have acquired it, and from which sources we assemble what we "know."
At any rate, for those worried that their memory may be "fading," or becoming "unreliable," the Boser piece in The New York Times might provide some comfort.
When you catch yourself not remembering something that you just know that you know, don't get alarmed. Forget about it!