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Memory and Forgetting:

Forgetfulness and the self

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  • The Debate

    Memory and Forgetting

    Memory seems so important. Education relies on it, and it is revered from Mastermind to University Challenge. But could it be that forgetting is more valuable, especially in an age that allows us to instantly access any fact? Could it be that forgetting, rather than memory, creates the individual?

    The Panel

    Neurobiologist Steven Rose, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Sue Bailey and biographer Hermione Lee celebrate forgetfulness.

    In assocation with Pfizer.

  • Find out more about speakers

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Steven Rose
    The Pitch
    You need both memory and forgetting to retain continuity of existence
  • Sue Bailey
    The Pitch
    Conditioning memory helps one come to terms with loss
  • Hermione Lee
    The Pitch
    Memory is critical to our self-dramatization
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    The value of memory
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    The importance of forgetting
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    Memory and society
Want to learn more about our speakers?
Join the conversation

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R Lindum G on 03/10/2014 4:11pm

Just to react to Steven Rose's comment about human memory being incorrectly compared to computing memory; I would argue the contrary, through personal experience following a TBI, many of the lessons I had learnt and memories I had collected in my earlier life were temporarily lost following my accident. Some behaviours I relearned very quickly through various therapies, as though the information was on my "hard drive' and as the 'RAM rebooted' or repaired they gradually came back to me, such as awareness of self, talking, feeding and dressing myself, walking, writing etc. The immediate rehabilitation was 2 months, with some residual damage and some lessons that have taken many years to re-establish. Albeit some memories will never fully return to me, which I believe is down to self preservation. Who knows, time will tell!!

Yi Jiun on 22/02/2014 8:26am

We forget because nothing is eternal...We forget the most by not forgetting...Forgetting some creation?

We do not forget; we just adapt, naturally

Marco on 28/08/2013 3:27am

Fred, what you are saying is noticeably emotionally backed. It's true that as people, and especially in today's society, memories and storytelling means a whole lot. But that doesn't mean that an alternative is immediately 'madness.' In fact, I feel what you said doesn't support anything beyond the bias that I'm exposing here. Personally I think forgetting is almost as important as remembering, especially, like it was said at the beginning of this video, in this day and age, where people can pull up nearly any fact about you at instantaneous speeds. To be blunt, everyone does stupid shit, and it would be inhuman to do otherwise, but not everyone wants to carry the burden of the joke for their entire lives.

Fred on 19/08/2013 11:36am

That’s just madness. Memories create and maintain us as individuals. Removing a memory, no matter if it’s sad or happy or deep or frivolous, makes us less of a person. Like Sue said, we should work with harmful memories to help us come to terms with them but we cannot and should not discard parts of ourselves.

EeBee on 16/08/2013 3:42pm

Steven Rose says that when remembering memories we remember the last time we remembered them which makes them incredibly labile. To which extent is this actually true? And if it can be taken to the extreme, why would anyone keep harmful memories? There would be no PTSD, there would be no grieving, there would be no unhappiness. We amputate gangrenous limbs, the same should be done with memories.

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