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The Young Mind Lives By Forgetting

October 12, 2015

As poet Linda Hogan wrote “…the young mind lives by forgetting.” An expert on human mind and memory was asked about the most important aspect of our brain’s gifts and he answered “the ability to forget”. We forget our bad golf games otherwise we would be afraid to repeat them. As children we forget our failed attempts to walk, speak or eat because learning involves much failure. There is of course the comic part in the book One Hundred Years Of Solitude when everyone forgets just about everything and have to write down what to do with a table or a stove. That was a metaphor for the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ experience of the politics of South America during the mid 20th century.

There are different kinds of forgetting just as there are different kinds of learning. In the development of ultra-fine motor skills – like paying the guitar – forgetting is as important as learning. When we learn new ways to move we use much more effort than is required: new movements require new neural pathways and new muscle actions. As we learn a new skill, or piece of music we use too much energy in our  execution. Some time away from the piece allows the process to assimilate in our unconscious and as we continue to develop new skills older ones seem easier. In this case we forget the effort it took to adapt to the new skill set yet we remember the physical skills. Normally we learn the set of pitches and rhythms for a piece along with a sense of the necessary physical moves to make it possible. That is our limit for processing new data which I call stage one.

When we return to a piece of learned music, we can move to a new level – the meaning of a piece. Among the questions we seek answers to at this stage are: how each section relates to each other and what the composer intended? Each note has a place in each phrase, each phrase has a place in each section and the sections fit together in a specific way that makes every work unique. This work of higher abstraction, can only take place after the physical skill sets have been processed. Then we need to forget this work as well.

For again as Linda Hogan wrote: “… the older mind lives by remembering”. In this case the older mind returns for the third time to a piece of music, with the previous stages assimilated. One no longer needs to think and the work at this stage is to share the joy of music with others.


Nasrudin and his friends were sitting in the coffee house and a young man passed by carrying a tray of baklava. Nasrudin’s friend said, “that boy is carrying a large trays of very nice looking baklava.” Nasrudin looked the other way saying, “It’s none of my business.” Another friend said “look he seems to be carrying it to your house”. Hearing this, Nasrudin stood up to say “In that case it is none of your business.”

From → Growing, Learning

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