How much of your life do you remember?

Think back over the last five years.

It may be easy to pick out significant events, but how many out of those 43,000 hours do you actually remember? The number isn’t likely to be high, but this isn’t a bad thing.

The human memory filters out irrelevant and outdated information in order for us to be more prepared in the moment; knowing where you left your keys yesterday isn’t going to help you a month from now. The forgetting curve is a model first suggested by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist in 1885. It shows how information in our brain is lost when there’s no attempt to retain it, and it’s steepest in the first 24 hours after you learn something.

Image credit: Educ320

It’s common knowledge that repetition improves memory – if you solve math problems repeatedly, then you’re going to remember how to do them better than if you did it once, or if you watch Shrek enough times then eventually you’ll be able to watch it in your head.

Jared Horvath, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, led a study that found that people who binge-watched TV shows forgot the content of them much faster than those who watched one episode a week. Right after finishing the last episode of the show, the binge-watchers scored higher on a quiz. However, after 140 days, they scored significantly lower than those that watched weekly.

Studies have indicated that the memory capacity of our brains is near the equivalent of several petabytes (over a million gigabytes), though it is unlikely that we’ll ever “run out of space,” so to say. Memories are not stored in any one place. Since they’re made up of so many different aspects, each aspect of a memory – emotion, scent, taste, sound, etc. – belongs with their respective section of the brain.

Ask yourself if you’d like to remember everything you’ve ever done – the answer is probably going to be something along the lines of “No, I’d go crazy,” and there’s good reason for that. We are creatures of doing, not remembering.

People don’t travel the world with the goal of creating memories. We don’t watch films, or read books with the sole intention of remembering them. We do things to experience them, and in doing those things, we gain understanding. Through understanding we can consciously and subconsciously apply ourselves in the future.

As put wonderfully by the 19th century philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

Featured image by Rolands Zilvinskis on Unsplash

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