Forgetting ~ by Scott A, Small

Oh my – another fascinating book.  (There are just too darn many good books to read and not nearly enough time!) 

Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering 
By Scott Small 
2021 / 211 pages (print) 
Read by Timothy Andres Pabon  5h 49m
Rating:  9.5 / nonfiction – psychology

There is a LOT of good information here.  And it’s very interesting to me because I’ve had plenty of PTSD and right now my mom has dementia and is in a nursing home.  Meanwhile I know I don’t get “enough” sleep.  Also, fwiw, I was a kindergarten teacher for most of my adult life and I found it to be a very challenging and creative profession plus there were many autistic children in my classes.  All of that and much more is addressed in Scott Small’s new book – ! 

Forgetting arises when other competing traces interfere with retrieval and inhibitory control mechanisms are engaged to suppress the distraction they cause. … Thus, our findings demonstrate a cortical pattern suppression mechanism through which remembering adaptively shapes which aspects of our past remain accessible.Mar 16, 2015

The book starts relatively slow and easy.  The material was mostly new to me, nicely presented, easy to follow and it made sense.  As the narrative went on it presented more complex information, was not quite as easy to follow and even seemed somewhat counter-intuitive at times. 

Can you recognize faces? –  People with Autism might not because they pay quite a lot more attention to parts. The paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo are mentioned:

So this book covers the autism spectrum, PTSD, creativity, Alzheimer’s and more.  The artists William De Kooning and Jasper Johns are discussed (and Johns is interviewed).  Small covers some of what we can do about and with memory loss – aka forgetting.  

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease.  In Chapter 5 Small says that de Kooning did essentially the same quality of work before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and after.  

And then there’s the relationship between IQ and memory – fascinating stuff. There is a relationship and there is some interaction can be seen when testing is done. But IQ is not a function of memory or vice versa.  

Dreaming is very good for creativity and artists and scientists.  The body’s need for sleep has remained a mystery.  We are forced to sleep more than what it would seem we need, but still, it’s essential. Why? That’s unknown, but as Francis Crick who, with James Watson, identified the double-helix structure of DNA said, “We dream in order to forget.”  He called it “smart forgetting.”   

Finally, in Chapter 6 we get to Dr Daniel  Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, father of the decision-making field, who, with Amos Tsversky, published a revolutionizing paper entitled “Judgment Under Uncertainty.”  He won the 2000 Nobel prize in Economics and developed the ideas of  “neuro-economics” which examines the insights relating to heuristics and biases.

Some ideas I’m taking away:  Some of cognitive heuristics are cognitive illusions and humans tend to be cognitively lazy.  Some questions are not always purely rational. It was believed that our emotions interfere in the field of decision-making, but that’s not the whole story.
It was also believed that our emotions could buy us some rational thinking if we could approach a problem dispassionately because (ta-da!) the heuristics are built into our cognitive minds!   The same way optical illusions are built into their pictures/contexts. 

I’m going to make a point of reading this book again and I’ll get the Kindle book to go with it. For Chapter Six in print if nothing else but I’m sure I missed other parts.

 In 2012 there was another major breakthrough with the development of functional MRI.  Now there was a desire to measure the implicit involvement of the hippocampus in decision making. There is no judgement independent of hippocampal involvement.  In fact, the hippocampus drives implicit memory associations.  Caring depends on memory and not forgetting can interfere with ethical and moral decision-making. 

Chapter 7:   Eric Kandel –

This last chapter is hard –  it deals with forgiveness and amnesty – (amnesia): Think Jews and slaves.  The blotting out of a street name (or a statue) does not remove someone or some event from history.  

There are ethical consequences to having too much memory.  And then there’s pathological forgetting and how to fix that.  It might be in anatomical biology- if we can find the source perhaps we can fix damaged proteins. 

Oh my – so much info in such a small book.  

Author: Scott A. Small M.D. is the Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University, where he is the Boris and Rose Katz Professor of Neurology. He is appointed in the Departments of Neurology, Radiology, and Psychiatry.

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