Forgetting January 2020

I’ve been thinking more about forgetting. It seems like the removal cost of newer knowledge is low. We learn things, but those things tend to be niche technological or cultural innovations relevant right now. By comparison old knowledge (murder is bad, fasting is good) tend to have a much higher removal cost if we forget them. Forgetting seems to be an intentional cultural process where by we intentionally choose what knowledge is preserved and what is forgotten.

The problem is that we seem to more often than not get what to forget and remember wrong. We choose to forget fasting because of the affiliation with religion. And we give ourselves autoimmune disease in numbers higher than any point in history by omission as a result of forgetting. Considering the fasting itself caused no harm and was practiced through most of history, that seems like a pretty big mistake. Science later proved what religion already knew, which is that fasting is necessary for healthy living. How do we avoid similar issues, while still learning new things? How do we not fall victim to ignoring new information entirely?

It seems like the first step is being intentional about what is forgotten and what is remembered. Some people are more inclined to throw wisdom out the window and learn everything for themselves. Others tend to be keepers of tradition. It is a feature and not a bug that both of those kinds of people co-exist in the same cultures, physical spaces and even families. We really need both in order to be doing the right things at any given time. We could have just waited until science had a good sense for fasting to get rid of it. Instead we got rid of it, created a long list of problems for ourselves as a result, and slowly researched our way right back to it.

This points to the next step once you’re actively aware of what is being remembered and forgotten. The best place to start would be to focus on things that are being remembered, and focus on disproving their legitimacy. Use the best available empirical, teleological, conservative, liberal, reductionist, philosophical and other forms of thinking and experimentation you can. See the idea contested in open battle between those for and against it. And come to a determination. Be damn sure if you are removing it that it has no relevant basis or second order effects on social control, health, sustainability, meaning, reproduction or anything else measured in lives.

The last step would be to forget incrementally. The problem with much of the way we tend to forget things is that it comes from a place of scapegoating and fear. We want to clear the decks and wipe the floor with whatever we were trying to forget. We should instead tread very carefully into those waters. Some people forget the thing, and then let’s watch how their life turns out. If it turns out badly, revisit those old ideas and try to put a more sustainable spin on them. It’s a process for sure, and an intentional one. Let’s hope people never reach consensus.