Although most people think of memory as a vault for storing information, it is more like a seamstress who stitches together logical threads into scenes that make sense. In this view, a good memory is therefore not one that holds lots of data but that can deftly separate what is useful from what could distract or upset you. Getting rid of what is not necessary—forgetting—is thus an important part of memory and of thought. It is also critical to emotional wellbeing. Revisiting bad memories is hardly a formula for happiness, after all. (For more on memory and forgetting, see Scientific American Mind’s special report on memory in January/February 2012.) Take this tour of your brain to see the parts that help you remember and those that let you forget.


Animation by George Retseck, Ravenswood Media; Art Direction by Patricia Nemoto

To learn more about memory and the power of forgetting, see the January 2012 Scientific American Mind. Stay tuned for the new Scientific American interactive brain, coming in 2012.

More to Explore
8 Ways To Forget Your Troubles
Let It Go
A Feeling for the Past
Trying to Forget
Totaling Recall
10 Novels That Will Sharpen Your Mind [Interactive]