154
70
eyelidlessness
My own experience: I play guitar, I like to think I play very well and lots of people have praised my playing. I do it in bursts, spending lots of time playing and practicing and recording for a stretch of some months then I… don’t play at all.

Life makes that cadence happen as much as anything, but all of my significant strides forward in technique and creative breakthrough have come shortly after breaking long dry spells. And that’s not to say there haven’t been disappointing breaks where everything feels cumbersome or fruitless. But all of my noticeable improvements playing have come after a significant stretch of time not playing, even if they were followed by significant time practicing.

ravenstine
I wonder if this is related to the effect of being better at something after not doing it for a while.

When it comes to a lot of things I do repetitively, I notice that there comes a point where either my skill doesn't improve or I actually get worse at what I'm doing. Then I'll take a day or more off, and when I come back suddenly I'm a total boss. The brain probably needs rest time to throw out the bad input and that can't happen as much during execution.

kvgr
And people with PTSD and anxiety have problem with sorting what to forget. It may be just that troubled mind cannot forget because it thinks that this one bad thing is important, even when in grand scheme of things it isn’t. Maybe that is why psychedelics help people with ptsd, it rewires the importance of memories. Just my drunken 2c.
philipov
That's great. I've always thought forgetting was a key part of learning. When you are learning something, you pick up a lot of bad habits. Part of learning is forgetting those bad habits so they don't override the good habits. This is why you want to start slowly and work up to a faster speed, so you can make sure you're practicing good habits. If you try to go fast at the start, you will be going too fast to control what you're doing and will drill bad habits into your muscle memory instead. It can be really hard to get rid of those bad habits after they've cemented.
alecst
My ex is a linguist, and she used to tell me about the “learning by forgetting” theory of the “phonological inventory” — which is a fancy way of saying “the sounds you can distinguish and produce.” The idea was that children were born able to distinguish all possible sounds, and over time forget the ones they are not exposed to. Interestingly she was a syntactician by training and would tell me that there are many people who believe this is true for syntax too: that children are born with all possible grammars, and “forget” the parts that they’re not exposed to. So if a language expresses parameter X but the child hears ~X, the child “forgets” about X and learns ~X by forgetting. This kind of supposes that a grammar is a set of discrete rules. But I’m not an expert in any of this, for details you’ll need to track down a real linguist.
LAIFscratch
I forget everything I didn't figure out myself. Some books I struggled, looked at the answers, and I can't remember anything I did 5+ years later. Other books/problems I struggled, figured it out myself, and I can recreate that solution like it was yesterday.
k_sze
This reminds me of a funny passage in Jin Yong’s wuxia novel “The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber”, where Zhang Wuji, the protagonist, learns taichi sword from his grand master Zhang Sanfeng.

Zhang Sanfeng demonstrated the whole taichi sword form to Zhang Wuji repeatedly, and after each demonstration, asked Zhang Wuji “how much have you forgotten?”

Zhang Wuji instantly got it and each time replied that he has forgotten more and more, while Zhang Wuji’s subordinates watched on the side and became more and more worried that their hierarch was forgetting his martial arts.

karmakaze
Another reason I think forgetting is so important to continuous learning is that if new ideas conflict with accepted ideas, it will be more difficult to integrate them. Like adding to a map or puzzle where the boundaries don't mesh. So by having fewer deeply held beliefs, new ideas are free to enter and coexist. You can also compartmentalize to some extent like superpositions of possibilities where each one can have new consistent information added without regard to how it conflicts with other possibilities. Not that I have a clue if this is a good example (or advisable) but a physicist could learn both loop quantum gravity and string theory and relate them both to understanding our world and keeping them separate could be helpful for learning.
lvmz
I read something interesting recently about how most discussion of brain function is 'tainted' by metaphor, these days usually involving computers. Basically the concept was that our brains don't process and store information like a computer does, but because computers come the closest to accomplishing what our brains do it's the easiest point of reference for us when discussing brain function.

Since I don't really know anything about brain science and know a little about computer science I find it pretty hard to escape that metaphor and imagine how a brain can function without doing what a computer does. This type of article does give me a bit of an inkling though.

cercatrova
Isn't this similar to dropout in machine learning neural networks? [0]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilution_(neural_networks)

habitue
Forgetting is similar to regularization mechanisms in deep learning like dropout. You tend to forget details, and this makes your mental models simpler over time. The memories that get refreshed are the details that actually matter and keep tripping you up
ConfusedDog
I have always been forgetful. I have never thought that was a problem. I often experience same things with repeated “love in first sight” reaction. My friends keep reminding we have done this before and I would not have recollection of that. I seem to have intentionally forgetting certain things just to experience them again, or not overthinking them that would cause any anxiety.

That’s why I hate year long lawsuits. I keep have to remember the details until the cases are settled. I want to move into woods to live in peace…

mwattsun
“the engram – the physical embodiment of a memory”

This sounds like a grotesquely inadequate explanation of memory, along the lines of "vapours"

“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.” ~ Nikola Tesla

I rather like this idea that my brain is a receiver and my memories are stored in the cloud

djtango
My piano teacher always told me "you learn to skate in the Summer and swim in the Winter" according to the Russians.
kaba0
I find my forgetting pattern similar to a garbage collector — not sure how universal it is, but I tend to forget things I no longer have connections to. Eg. I will quickly forget memories with people I no longer communicate.
jhgb
I'm reasonably certain that I read very similar things in some writings of Piotr Woźniak on the things he found out while working on SuperMemo. Must have been at least ten years ago.
istillwritecode
This is a blindingly obvious hypothesis. Assuming the mind has finite hierarchical memory, this is just a matter of purging cache or overwriting other information.
imwillofficial
I’m learning so much, including my name every day! Wait, what were we talking about?
honksillet
Is this really anew theory?
DarylZero
Good news for me.
temp12913231
The brain does garbage collection when you sleep. Probably it does an even wider reorganization when you leave some neural circuits unused for some time.

Personally, with gaming, I had some improvements coming from restarting a habit but psychologically it is harder to suck more at something and working to get to your former performance. I have seen it in a lot of gamers. They get gud, for some reason they grow tired and leave, they return, they wonder at how out of shape they are, they play a while and leave again when they realize how much they have to work to get to top tier. Ofc I am not referring to games based on the amount of time and money you waste on them, but skill based old school FPS shooters.

Proven
hypertele-Xii
The heaviest alcohol drinkers in my society are university students. Seems like a correlation.