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The agony of forgetfulness.

The Agony of Forgetfulness

If the horizons of memory are limitless, why do we forget? Except for cases of brain damage, alcoholic stupor, and senility, the causes of forgetfulness may be found in the realm of psychology.

One of the earliest theories was postulated by Sigmund Freud. He attributed forgetting to repression. Around this concept Freud and his followers built the hypothesis that blamed unwelcome thoughts: if a period of our lives, or a particular encounter produces painful thoughts associated with it, we will probably repress these thoughts and feeling into the unconscious mind.

If we cannot remember, we need not deal with the pain. Nor do we have to confront the unpleasant associations related to those events or people.

Sometimes the pain is so severe that particularly depressed individuals will lose all memory of the past. The condition is known as fugue. In mentally healthful people, however, repression only accounts for incidental instances of forgetfulness.

Another possible cause of forgetting is the theory of interference. As more and more memories accumulate during a lifetime, many of them are so similar that one memory cannot be distinguished from another and they begin to interfere with each other.

Interference does not necessarily result from overcrowding of the memory circuits, but is produces by lack of retrieval cues, the phenomenon required for distinguishing one memory from another.

Avoidance may be related to repression in some respects. One difference between them is that avoidance begins with a conscious wish to evade a duty or requirement.

As a child, Lee was constantly beset by his siblings to run errands and perform chores. His resentment could not be expressed because the family that surrounded him prided itself upon their devotion to each other. Lee consequently developed persistent forgetfulness. His parents, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends realized they could not depend upon him; he forgot too often.

An avoidance device became a character armor. Even in adulthood hardly anyone expects Lee to make arrangements to pay bills or to remember to send birthday cards.

Absent-mindedness occurs when the mind is absent. People often perform tasks, hold conversations, seem to listen without concentration. They are functioning on two levels, conscious and subconscious. The result is a reputation for poor memory, one that the individual firmly believes.

The cure for absent-mindedness is to try to be alert and conscious at all times. In dealing with the problem of mislaying objects, an extra effort should be made to surround the object with visual drama. Keys, for example, should be thought of as fingers: "I'm laying my finger down. I must remember to pick it up in order to drive!"

Tip-of-the-Tongue Forgetfulness usually happens when one is certain of a fact but cannot recall it immediately. Often the words are "on the tip-of-the-tongue," but a barrier is up. Obviously, an impediment to recall has entangled the thought.

One helpful device is to say all the words and phrases that come to mind at the time. Sudden recall will usually result.

Overload and fatigue contribute to memory lapses. Not unlike an electrical circuit that "blows" fuses, there could exist a circuit breaker in the brain that diminishes the ability to recall. Mental fatigue should be dealt with by taking periods of rest. Overload caused by persistent heavy input of challenging work can be overcome by switching to less demanding activities.

The great Samuel Johnson, writing in the eighteenth century, said the true art of memory is the art of attention. It is an aphorism that modern science is ushering in as a scientific truth.
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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