#750: The Surprising Benefits of Forgetting

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Whenever Dr. Scott Small is at a social event and tells people what he does for a living — that he’s a memory scientist — they inevitably tell him how much they bemoan their own lapses in memory and frequent forgetfulness. But in his new book, Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering, Scott makes the case that what we think is a problem is actually an advantage, and that if memory wasn’t balanced with forgetfulness, life would be a nightmare. Scott is the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University, and he begins our conversation by making the distinction between pathological forgetting like dementia, and normal, garden variety forgetting which we all experience, and which is the beneficial type. We then talk about how memories are made, and what happens when they fail to solidify and we forget things. From there we discuss the surprising benefits of forgetting, from giving us the ability to generalize, to allowing us to move on from traumatic events, to enabling us to be more magnanimous in relationships. We also talk about the role of sleep in forgetting, and forgetting in creativity, and how being forgetful might actually make you a better decision maker. We end our conversation with how to know if your forgetting is normal, or something you should be concerned about.

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