No one remembers being in the womb, even though research indicates that fetuses have memory. The selective amnesia seems hard-wired, suggesting that evolutionary pressure made it advantageous not to remember gestation.
In a second programmed amnesia, no one remembers being a baby, though all the evidence indicates that babies have memory. Why are no baby memories saved?
Could the transitions from womb to babyhood and from babyhood to toddler jump chasms too wide to translate? Do we protect ourselves from memory? A Darwinian might surmise that proto-humans who remembered the womb went mad from grief and confusion, and toddlers who remembered babyhood did the same. The "fittest" were those who forgot.
Researchers have discovered a third programmed amnesia at age seven, when a child's brain undergoes a culling of the previous six years of memory. Unlike the total blockades of memory before birth and between birth and age one, this third event deletes some memory but not all. No one knows the criteria for remembering or forgetting, why the amnesia occurs at age seven or what its purpose is.
Humanity practices adult-driven amnesia as well, spread via social groups often with conscious intent. For example, when one culture dominates and/or destroys another, the remaining culture usually doesn't want to remember the culture that was destroyed, at least not in uncensored versions. The state helps by programing amnesia. In Stalinist Russia people were not allowed to tour the tsars' palaces. They needed to forget those palaces and a culture that often dazzled. One of the Dutch party that first explored Manhattan Island reported that the native population were clean, healthy and sane, not filthy, sick, and crazy like people the reporter had seen in European cities (Gotham, A History of New York City to 1898; Edwin G. Burrows/Mike Wallace). That report has gone missing in most history books. No one wants to remember it.
Sometimes we rewrite society's memories of events from the not too distant past, giving them a spin, while individuals having the original, unspun memories are still alive. This causes controversy among those who remember the original events, as people with different spins grapple with each other to control the rewriting of the memory narrative. Such a grappling was sparked after the recent funeral of President George H.W. Bush, in which he was eulogized as a "second founding father." The controversy died down when everyone realized the rewrite would not make it to pubic school textbooks.
There are cycles of amnesia in our long-term evolution as well. We have forgotten what human life was like before we adopted agriculture, only 10,000 years ago. If it weren't for a few fragments of bone and clay, and some vague myths, we wouldn't know we had lived in small tribes as hunter gatherers. While we've figured out some of the basics, we cannot remember what it felt like to be human for those hundreds of thousands of years.
Humanity is about to undergo another mass amnesia. In a few centuries (or less), there might not be more than a handful of people in the world who've heard of Shakespeare, or the Roman Empire, or any of today's nation-states. It could be the "end of history" we've been hearing about. Genetic engineering, AI and machine/human interface will create a new humanity that will not understand much about the old one, except that it was primitive and should be discarded and forgotten.
Today, as if to expedite the process, we are working on drugs to delete "traumatic" memories, in a bid perhaps to keep pace with our bionic offspring, whose memories will be moderated by coders. The current flooding of quasi-legal marijuana into all levels of Western society seems part of the trend, as the latest research on THC, the active ingredient, suggests it functions by limiting short-term memory (if further research on marijuana is legalized, it should ponder why limiting short-term memory produces a "high").
How should we react to the coming mass amnesia? We might as well fight it, don't you think? By "fight it" I don't mean keep it from happening. I mean, let's inject some memory into the future, while we can.
That is the basic mission of my group, Mantis. Much thanks to Harry the Human for giving me this platform. I return you now to Harry. For more of my essays, and information about Mantis, follow us at: http://www.gregorysarmyoftheyoung.com/