What Should We Remember?

There’s too much information in the universe. We can only afford to keep around the bits that are most likely to prove useful in the future. We need to make constant bets and trade-offs around what we try to remember and what we forget. For example, we prefer generalizations over specifics because they take up less space. When there are lots of irreducible details, we pick out a few standout items to save and discard the rest. What we save here is what is most likely to inform our filters related to problem 1’s information overload, as well as inform what comes to mind during the processes mentioned in problem 2 around filling in incomplete information. It’s all self-reinforcing.

We reduce events and lists to their key elements

It’s difficult to reduce events and lists to generalities, so instead we pick out a few items to represent the whole.

Suffix EffectSerial Position Effect
Part-List Cueing EffectRecency Effect
Primary EffectMemory Inhibition
Modality EffectDuration Neglect
List-Length EffectSerial Recall Effect
Misinformation EffectLeveling and Sharpening
Peak-End Rule

We store memories differently based on how they are experienced

Our brains will only encode information that it deems important at the time, but this decision can be affected by other circumstances (what else is happening, how is the information presenting itself, can we easily find the information again if we need to, etc) that have little to do with the information’s value.

Tip of the Tongue PhenomenonAbsent-Mindedness
Testing EffectNext-In-Line Effect
Google EffectLevels of Processing Effect

We discard specifics to form generalities

We do this out of necessity, but the impact of implicit associations, stereotypes, and prejudice results in some of the most glaringly bad consequences from our full set of cognitive biases.

Fading Affect BiasImplicit Stereotypes
Implicit AssociationNegativity Bias
PrejudiceStereotypical Bias

We edit and reinforce some memories after the fact

During that process, memories can become stronger, however various details can also get accidentally swapped. We sometimes accidentally inject a detail into the memory that wasn’t there before.

Spacing EffectSource Confusion
CryptomnesiaFalse Memory
SuggestibilityMisattribution of Memory