Sometimes we say that a person is intelligent because he is able to remember the necessary details at the right time. These people take out an important piece of information or a procedure to solve a problem just when it is needed.
There is no doubt that the memory, the ability to remember, plays an important role in intelligence. Without the working memory we could not even keep in mind all the necessary data to solve a problem and without the long-term memory, we could not take up strategies that have worked in the past and use them creatively to find new solutions.
However, neuroscientists explain that also the ability to forget plays an essential role in intelligence. Although it seems strange, to solve problems quickly and originally we need both memory and forgetfulness.
Also the ability of your brain to forget is a sign of intelligence
A study conducted at the University of Toronto reveals that being forgetful could also be a sign of intelligence. These neuroscientists analyzed the role of memory and forgetting, called persistence and transience, respectively, in the ability to solve problems.
They came to the conclusion that both persistence and transience are essential for intelligence, understood as the ability to solve problems moving through the accumulation of acquired knowledge, in a way that allows us to quickly find the information relevant to the problem that we must solve. .
According to these neuroscientists, one of the main objectives of memory is to optimize decision making. However, forgetfulness is also an essential element for the brain to focus on what really matters for the particular problem.
In fact, in recent years it has been discovered that there are brain mechanisms dedicated entirely to oblivion, which means that our memory is being reorganized continuously, storing new information and erasing what we no longer need or do not use.
The elimination of synaptic connections between neurons is a mechanism that allows rewriting information, establishing new neuronal pathways. That explains why children forget so many things, since their hippocampus is continuously producing new neurons that allow “overwrite” the information. New information highways are continually being created in your brain, some of which eliminate the old ones.
This ability to “overwrite” information, which implies forgetting, facilitates decision-making and stimulates intelligence since it allows us to generalize past events, including present events. In Artificial Intelligence this phenomenon is known as regularization, which helps create simpler models that prioritize essential information, eliminating specific details that are not relevant.
In other words, forgetting allows us to be more efficient, erasing all the inconsequential details, so that we can solve problems more quickly and effectively. Therefore, it is not only important to store a large amount of information, but also to be able to “clean up” every so often, so that we can navigate more easily within this accumulation of knowledge, quickly finding the data and procedures that we need to solve the problem we are facing.
Therefore, if you are a slightly a forgetful person, you should not consider it as something negative but it means that your mechanisms of “overwriting” and deletion work very well. You just have to learn to take advantage of it.
Richards, B. A. & Frankland, P. W. (2017) The Persistence and Transience of Memory. Neuron; 94(6): 1071–1084.