Source: The Economist: Science and technology

À la recherche du temps perdu
IRENEO FUNES, a character in a story by Jorge Luis Borges, has a strange affliction. He forgets nothing, a condition that makes him incapable of analytical thought. Fiction, of course. But it emphasises a point. The memory is an evolved structure with a job to do. That job is to preserve its owner and help him or her reproduce. Perfection is not required, only adequacy. Indeed, selective forgetting of the useless is as important as selective remembering of the useful. And much of this winnowing takes place during sleep, as two papers in this week’s Nature Neuroscience observe.One of these papers is a review of previous work, by Robert Stickgold of Harvard University and Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley. They propose that the process of sleep acts as a form of triage—first choosing what to retain, and then selecting how it will be retained. The other paper, by Dr Walker and his colleague Bryce Mander, compares the process in the young and the old.One of the studies Dr Stickgold and Dr Walker examine in their review (a study which was, as it happens, led...

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