While sourcing books to read this year, I stumbled on the book The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, which promised to educate readers on the intricacies of forging memories, retrieving memories, and the importance of forgetting.

The author – Lisa Genova, an American neuroscientist, transitioned into full-time writing, exploring neurological diseases through her novels. In exploring the complexity of memory, she opted to write this book to ensure better delivery of her numerous research and discoveries.

We have experienced the pain of poor memory consolidation, exacerbated by the discomfort of meeting someone, exchanging pleasantries and phone numbers, and a few days, weeks, or months down the line, you see this person walking up to you in a mall or a restaurant, and it’s a real struggle with your brain to recall the name of the person. Sometimes we forget the circumstances of our previous meeting with people, which makes us often ask “where have we met before?”.

I experience occasional qualms with my memory, and Genova’s artful use of simple prose to deliver several scientific inputs that are both useful and hopeful is refreshing. It helped me differentiate between normal memory lapses and serious conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s.

We all have those moments of walking into a room to get something important but end up asking ourselves why we walked into the room. Episodes like this could make us terrified that we might be developing a memory-related disease. You forgot that person’s name, birthday, where you placed your keys, or what you walked into the room to get because you simply failed to give your brain the information necessary for it to make the creation and retrieval of memory efficient.

Remember helps the average reader better understand the processes involved in memory formation, from encoding and consolidation to storage and retrieval. The book also explores how memory enhancement tips like paying attention, decreasing distractions, rehearsing, self-testing, creating meaning, using visual and spatial imagery, keeping a diary, and adequate sleep will improve memory at any age.

Another intriguing aspect of the book is Genova’s writing style and presentation of the maligned counterpart of remembering, which is forgetting. Genova normalized forgetfulness in human beings, artfully creating a nexus between normal forgetting and age-related forgetting, bringing to the limelight what Alzheimer’s is not.

Using numerous instances and examples of people with above-average memory capacity, she established that forgetting happens to the best of us. A standout example is Yo-Yo Ma, an American cellist, who has performed around the world. Despite his superb memory, consolidating thousands of notes to muscle memory since he started playing the cello as a child, he was still susceptible to memory glitches. One day in a taxi, on his way to New York City for a performance, he forgot his 266-year-old cello, worth $2.5 million, in the trunk of the taxi. After he got the instrument back – thanks to the police, he said “I did something really stupid, I was in such a rush, I was so exhausted, I’d given a concert at the Carnegie Hall last night. I just forgot”. This shows that forgetting something doesn’t make it less important than the things you remember, you just neglected to give your brain the information it needs to remember it.

“The most interesting part about forgetting is that it can be a blessing.”

This part fascinated me the most in this book. Genova used the example of Solomon Shereshevsky – a late Russian Journalist blessed with an admirable memory. His memory was so powerful that he could recollect decade-old events in perfect detail. With time, it created a lot of confusion in his mind. Out of desperation to forget some things, he wrote them down in papers and set them ablaze.

The ability to forget can protect you from memories that are unpleasant and emotionally draining. Forgetting also helps the brain get rid of information like old passwords, old house addresses, a painful heartbreak, the death of a loved one. Imagine that you could remember every tiny detail of your life from a decade ago like Shereshevsky, I bet it will be difficult trying to absorb and strengthen new memories because most of the old memories will conflict with the new ones, making it impossible to use your mental abilities efficiently.

With this terrific book, Genova delivered her promise to help her readers explore the science of memory and to enjoy the art of forgetting.

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About the author

I'm Dav-Oz, and  I'm the Chief Editor of The Dav-Oz Blog, a graphic designer and upcoming fashion designer.

I'm just your regular young Nigerian lad with dreams and hope for a better future.


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