Why do we forget our childhood? is an interesting look at how language helps forge long lasting memories, or at least, is necessary to retrieval. I’ve heard this hypothesis before from cognitive scientists and I was never fully convinced of it until I thought about the problem with an operating system metaphor.
When we’re born, imagine all our thoughts and memories are written and stored as simple BASIC programs. We’re just getting the hang of storing memories so they’re not long term. Imagine we have no media and everything’s in RAM, as it happens.
10 PRINT “CRY LOUDLY”
20 GOTO 10
A few months into life and we move on to encoding everything in MS-DOS. We can’t really get at the very early programs anymore, but we’re doing ok storing new ones that can describe more objects.
By the time we reach two years of age our increased complexity requires an upgrade. We’re running an early BSD form of unix in our heads, storing memories filled with words, sounds, sights, and smells.
By the time we’re five years old, we’ve done our final upgrade, to OS X. Just like OS X, if you open a terminal and type out a BASIC program it won’t run, and so we can’t retrieve those early memories stored in BASIC or DOS. But we can pull some of the most straightforward of early unix code we wrote when we were 3 and 4. From here on out memory storage and retrieval is fairly straightforward and though it’s sometimes difficult to pull something out of a decades old archive, it’s still possible.
Ok, maybe I took that too far. Still, it’s how I explain childhood memory storage to myself and helps me understand early childhood development.