We forget when we are unable to retrieve a memory. When we create new memory, old memory begins to fade and disappear. We forget because of the competition between stored memories; similar information causes greater competition. Often an old memory makes it more difficult to remember a new memory. It also happens that our previously learned experience gets hampered by our new experience. We forget because of ‘encoding failures’; failure prevents the information from entering our memory space. We commonly experience temporary blocking of stored information. We often find difficulty in recalling the name of a familiar face. Unknowingly or unconsciously, we often ‘edit’ or ‘rewrite’ our past experiences. Such memory distortions are due to the influence of our current knowledge and beliefs. For example, people displeased with romantic relationship tend to have a disproportionately negative take on past state of relationship. Often, we work actively to erase some memories. Our efforts to forget often boomerang. Our efforts to nullify those memories make them stick stronger. Conscious forgetting often doesn’t work. We become tragic prisoner of our memory. Often our forgetfulness is deliberate. Often memory’s vices become its virtues. “These mindbugs are the occasional result of the normally efficient operation of the human memory system,” writes Daniel Schacter.
We possess both short term and long-term memories. Our short term working memory reflects our current thinking and it provides us sharp details about a few things. Our long-term memory is a culmination of thoughts and experiences gained over a long time. Our long-term memory, though can hold many things, the details are often fuzzy. What we remember is the gist of what happened, the details are often missing. Another view says that our long-term memories are not as fuzzy as we think they are. Studies indicate massive storage ability of long-term memories.
If our memories are not fuzzy, why then we forget the details of things we want to remember? The brain contains detailed representations of lots of different events and objects, but we can’t always find that information when we want it. We can describe an object very precisely when we are shown it, and can say if we have seen the object before. It seems our ‘voluntary searching mechanism’ is prone to interference and forgetfulness.