See Inside January/February 2012

Forgetting Actually Strengthens Memory--a Special Report

Photoillustration by Aaron Goodman

Most people picture human memory as something resembling a secure metal vault into which we cram our valuable—and not so valuable—thoughts for safekeeping. The people with the biggest vaults, then, can keep the most stuff. They know the most and make the fewest mistakes.

As this special report shows, however, human memory is a far cry from a passive storage unit. It behaves more like a seamstress who sews concepts from threads of vital information while snipping away extraneous material. The best memory, therefore, is not the one that holds the most data, but the one that can deftly distinguish between the pieces to keep and those to discard. In other words, the most astute individuals can both remember what is vital and, critically, forget the rest.

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