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Forgetting Reader’s Guide

By Scott A. Small

Forgetting by Scott A. Small


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. “Forgetting is a cognitive gift.” What do you think is meant by this?
2. What were your thoughts about forgetting before you read the book? Have they changed? How do you view forgetting now?
3. What did you think about the story of “Funes, the Memorius”—the man who could no longer forget? Do you see it as a blessing or a curse?
4. What can “facial recognition” computer algorithms teach us about our own memory? In what ways do you think our brains are better than a computer?
5. The book breaks down the specifics of the brain response to PTSD. What did you learn about the amygdala and trauma? What findings about the brain’s capacity for emotional forgetting surprise you most?
6. Did you relate to the comparisons of Cousin C (the chimp) and Cousin B (the bonobo)? Do you see the ways your environment has shaped your brain?
7. What did you think about the study of how our emotions influence our peristalsis responses (fight, flight, or freeze)? Were you surprised at the correlation between your head and your gut? Can you think of a time you had a strong feeling and it affected your stomach?
8. “A recent study showed that when dogs and humans gaze into each other’s eyes, each increases their internal oxytocin secretion.” Did you try this experiment with your own dog (or a friend’s)? Did you sense the warmth and tenderness that comes with oxytocin (“the love hormone”) release and amygdala relaxation?
9. The author’s conversation with Jasper Johns—about the last works of artist Willem de Kooning—asks whether an artist could still create works reflecting his or her creativity if the hippocampus was excised from an artist’s brain later in life (vis-à-vis Alzheimer’s disease). What conclusion does the author reach? What does the author’s conclusion say about creativity and the brain?
10. Discuss the role sleep and dreaming play in forgetting. How is memory affected with less sleep?
11. Intellectual humility is an extension of metacognition that allows people to be open to the possibility that their initial judgments might be wrong. What are the benefits of slower decision making or reconsiderations? Despite these, are there sometimes benefits to fast first decisions?
12. What was your biggest takeaway from this book? How will you think about the brain and forgetting going forward?

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