“To be able to forget means sanity.”
― Jack London, The Star Rover
DARPA Memory Program: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, a military-research agency of the U.S. government, is working on devices that would aid in memory restoration; it says on its website the following: “DARPA has selected two universities to initially lead the agency’s Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, which aims to develop and test wireless, implantable ‘neuroprosthetics’ that can help service-members, veterans, and others overcome memory deficits incurred as a result of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or disease.”
Image Credit & Source: DARPA
There are some personal memories, some recounting of personal decisions, some reminiscing of personal disappointments of the past that require a conscious and voluntary forgetting, a determined dismissal of their importance. The reasons cannot be more clear: such is a way to move on, to move forward, to not live in unpleasant times where a grievance is often nursed for no particular benefit—in short, to allow good and healthy living today. Mental health and one’s sanity depends on it.
If we remember as not to forget, it is also wise to forget as to not remember. In this argument for forgetting, there is a counter-intuitive idea that says that not all memories are worth keeping, worth remembering, worth telling and discussing. In an age that deems equality as paramount, it might be disheartening to admit that not all memories are equal; that some are better than others.
Yet, it is the rational thing to do, is it not? After all, there are some memories of a personal nature involving failures in family relationships, failures in business and professional pursuits, and failures in social activities that after a period of reflection and analysis that ought to be put to rest and forgotten; in short, if it is at all possible, such memories ought to be put away into the land of oblivion.
Forgetting is sometimes not only good, but also necessary, acting as a quiet forgiveness of self and of others, notably of our intimates. Personal slights, personal insults and personal failures can be debilitating, and more so when we impart meaning to these events, these markers in our lives. It is human to do so, very human it seems. It must be a private hell to remember everything.
The older we become, the more we store memories of the past, and the greater meaning we often ascribe to them; we try to understand our present selves in relation to the decisions our past selves made. It is true that memories are not always reliable, but this is not often the important point about memories. Memories define who we are as much as anything tangible. Or so it becomes when amnesia strikes, or a person is struck down with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and thus suffers irreversible loss of memory. This is different, however, than voluntarily deciding to forget.
Or placing emphasis on one memory over another. For example, if we can change or memories, we can perhaps change our selves, our core being. If only we can alter this decision, this course of action, stop ourselves from doing this or that... perhaps our lives would be better, our relationships richer, our misery less pronounced. We have all entered this realm of thinking. Yes, the past influences the present. To what degree varies, of course, but there is a prevailing and present influence. The memory is the conduit of the influence; the highway and byway of both good and bad thoughts about ourselves and how we conducted ourselves in accordance to our personal morality.
So, yes, a conscious forgetting of past hurts makes it easier to reside well in the present. But what about the need or desire to recover the self from the past? In Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), published in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927, human memory plays an important, if not central role, in the tension between who we have become and who we (thought or remember) we were in the past:
People claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years.Yes, disappointment. This happens often, more often than we would like to admit. First to ourselves. Nostalgia, it would seem. operates in this manner, and it has a hold on our memory; we remember our childhoods as we would like them to be, seeing the past as better than it was—we do this by selecting the events that confirm our current views. It becomes more poignant if we do not like the way things have turned out, if we do not like or enjoy our present self, our present life and the “hand that fate dealt us.” This might explain the power and importance of forgiveness and acceptance in allowing us to move, without the encumbrances of the past weighing us down. We might remember, but the power it has on our today is diminished, less so and weaker than what it is without the conscious act of forgiveness.
This is most liberating, as is the knowledge of living with not too much regret. Proust’s long meandering 3,300-page literary opus of more than one million words is much like a recounting of life’s living; it is interesting to note that it was originally given the title, in English, of Remembrance of Things Past, which suggests memory rather than time lost, or squandered. Or wasted. Can time be really wasted, if what you are doing is enjoyable at that moment? I don’t think so; I hope not.