Worried you can’t remember some detail? Forget about it!

Your brain may just be optimizing, according to two researchers at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. The brain’s goal is not to transmit the most accurate information over time but to guide and optimize intelligent decision-making by holding on to only valuable information. 

A review paper by CIFAR’s Paul Frankland and Blake Richards, published in the journal Neuron, looks at the literature of remembering, known as persistence, and the newer body of research on forgetting, or transience. Forgetting allows humans to adapt to new situations by letting go of outdated and potentially misleading information that can no longer help us maneuver changing environments, say the researchers.

In artificial intelligence, the principle is called regularization, they explain. Simple computer models are created that prioritize core information but eliminate specific details, allowing for wider application. Memories in the brain work in a similar way.

Research shows that episodic memories are forgotten more quickly than general knowledge that we access on a daily basis. It supports the adage that if you don't use it, you lose it.

Source: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.04.037

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