Forgetfulness Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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The Nature of the Beast

Forgetfulness is the art of failing to remember vital pieces of information at inopportune moments. It occurs when you least expect it, and can have dire consequences. It can strike any person at any age, but has a tendency to affect people as they get older1. There are however good and bad sides to forgetfulness. Many people benefit both from actual memory lapses and from a form of convenient forgetfulness when faced with obligations.

There are, in fact, some medical reasons for forgetfulness. It has been discovered that forgetfulness occurs when an idea is not consigned properly to long-term memory. In the transfer from medium- to long-term memory, the idea/identity/fact/appointment is misfiled and thus we either have no recollection of it at all, or we need reminding. Certain states of mind can also affect the memory. If you ingest copious amounts of alcohol, caffeine, or certain drugs, your memory is adversely affected. If you are bored or are not concentrating it becomes more difficult to remember things. This is one of the reasons why last-minute revision for exams doesn't always work. The combination of caffeine (boosts short-term memory, but ruins long-term) and boring subject matter makes it difficult to remember exactly what you were studying in the first place. Not only this, but as the brain can only concentrate on about seven ideas at any one time2 it is perhaps unsurprising that so many things can easily be forgotten.

Some medical conditions have an effect on memory; stroke victims, and Alzheimers sufferers are amongst those whose memory may be very badly affected. Accident victims can suffer in a similar way as the brain attempts to block out the trauma, preventing any transfer of the incident to long-term memory

The Bad Side of Forgetfulness

So, you can't remember where you put your keys; or that you had to pick up your kids from school; or that you put dinner in the oven five hours ago 'Just to warm it up a bit'; or that you really should have paid that electricity bill before you were cut off. These situations are among the consequences of forgetfulness.

Apart from the danger of losing money and friends3 forgetfulness can be time-consuming. You may have to make a return journey for that one important item; or rush a piece of work at the last minute; or you may need to drive all around the entire city, just to find a store that's open at 11.30pm on Christmas eve, preferably one that sells the right colour Telly Tubby.

Forgetfulness makes you feel stupid and inferior to other people who have clearly remembered what you haven't. This feeling is often augmented by said people rubbing your nose in it. Not only were you the only person to have forgotten the idea/identity/fact/appointment, but it was so easy to commit to memory for everyone else that you must be seriously dense.

It can also put a significant part of your life in trouble. Forgetting the time of your exams isn't good if you want to get good grades; forgetting to go to work, or even just setting the alarm clock, can land you in hot water. These mistakes are often harder to rectify than some of the others.

The Fabulous Side of Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness can prove to be a very useful tool at times. It is used worldwide as a means of avoiding onerous responsibilities and embarrassing situations, both when the forgetfulness is real and when it is falsified.

Forgetfulness can let you and your friends save face over the previous night's adventures after drinking in the pub. None of you really want to admit to being the one that stole the street sign, nor to being the one who suggested it, nor to being the person who decided it was best to leave it in the local swimming pool. In such situations it is best to pretend that you have forgotten anything that happened after last orders. This allows everyone to save face and not get thrown out of their jobs through idle gossip. But this becomes more difficult when the teetotal person in the group keeps reminding you, and everyone else, of the events of the night before.

Forgetfulness is useful when you have made a mistake about somebody. For example, if a date goes badly, forgetting that the obnoxious bigot you went out with even exists can be rather therapeutic. Make sure, however, that you did not give them your number, or, in case you did that you are out when he/she calls; otherwise forgetfulness cannot help you.

Forgetting the time can be useful when you are engaged in something you enjoy. The act of forgetting allows you to concentrate more fully on the task in hand, it frees you of some constraints and lets you avoid appointments you would rather not keep.

Finally, forgetting the rules and regulations of society lets you express yourself in a way which makes you feel comfortable. It frees your mind and develops creativity. Be warned though, reckless abandon can result in legal problems, it may be fab to forget this, but it's true, and can have nasty consequences.

1Legendary American comedian, George Burns, in the very winter of his extraordinarily long life, postulated the theory that increased forgetfulness, as a result of ageing, was in fact a positive phenomena to be embraced. This was on account of extreme forgetfulness enabling you to hide your own Christmas presents, and the fact that you get to meet new friends every day.2Go on, try thinking of eight completely separate things at once. It is very difficult when you are concentrating, let alone when you are busy and involved with everyday life.3Not always a problem if you have lots of both.

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