This was fascinating. The whole theory behind this theory was that the brain acted as a repository for information in a way like you’d expect a library to work. They postulated that there was a finite amount of information that could be stored, and that in order to make good decisions, irrelevant material had to be expunged. (I’m getting all my Toastmasters Words of the Day used up today, so keep your thesauruses and dictionaries close.) They’re wrong.
Your brain never forgets anything.
Wait…what? I forgot where my keys were. I forgot Jamie’s name. I forgot my appointment. Those are ESSENTIAL things to remember. All of those things were in my brain the day before I needed them. Did I replace those ESSENTIAL bits of information with something more important? I don’t think so. I read no scientific papers. I didn’t discover a new subject of study. I learned no new skills. I did have some interesting conversations, and worked to solve a couple of problems. Were those things more important or more relevant that the location of my keys, my friend’s name, or the appointment I’d set? No.
Inefficient memory has nothing to do with the quality of the information stored in your brain. It has nothing to do with the relevance of the information. It has to do with access. The neurons that direct your inquiry to the correct location where the information is stored work in a circuitous path. The more you use the path, the wider and more direct it becomes. I did find my keys, and remembered Jamie’s name, but I had to reschedule the appointment.
I have a rather large vocabulary which means that I have a humongous number of words in my brain, but I don’t use the $20 words much because it doesn’t enhance the understanding by my conversation mates. The larger the vocabulary, the more precise and descriptive you can make your communication. But it does no good if everyone with whom you speak has to look up every other word. This means that though I have those words in my brain, I don’t have to access them often.
I have a plethora of scientific information regarding the natural world: biology, geology, physics, botany, meteorology, and chemistry are some of the subjects I find fascinating. I have an innate understanding of mathematics and logic and I can picture and rotate graphs in my head. I am fascinated by history and how each event relates to the culture and affects the timelines that intersect it. I keep all these things in my head and accessible. There is nothing I choose to forget. In fact, there are things that my mind recalls that I really do not understand why I keep in there. It’s like going through your keepsakes and finding old grade cards. Why would you keep those? I have lots of stuff in my attic that I may or may not need, and so there is a ladder that goes to my attic, but it’s not used very often.
ANYWAY, the stuff you forget today is not gone from your brain forever. It never leaves. The pathway to the information is just a road with lots of pot holes. Eventually you can rebuild that pathway and discover this ‘lost’ information. The truly intelligent beings are the ones who can create pathways linking different information to a situation. Why don’t planes have flapping wings? Because the design is based more on a kite or a hawk. (OK a kite is a type of hawk, but I’m talking the kind of kite with a string that you can buy at Walmart. Did you know a kite was a hawk? That fact is running around in my head and I caught it, subdued it to my will and put it in the blog to ever be captive to this page. Now I’m getting silly.) Leonardo Da Vinci was one of those people who had lots of information in his head from observation and study. Einstein and Stephen Hawking related ideas in their heads that no one else would have put together. Geniuses do that all the time. They make use of the pathways to discover new relationships between the memories, the facts and the ideas to form new theories and new ideas. Other geniuses make use of the pathways to remember what is on their grocery lists. That means that they don’t throw away useless information, they just don’t use that pathway very often. Should they need to draw a conclusion that requires that information, they can access it and integrate it into their thought processes.
So if you take that test on Facebook that says “You are a Genius because you can’t remember crap,” take that with a grain of NaCl.