Contextual amnesia

  • Post category:Psychology / Social
  • Reading time:5 mins read

I believe last year or the year before I wrote about how we seem to live in some kind of parallel worlds and find ourselves unable to relate to activities in these worlds. The situations I am referring to are not related to any time travel fantasy, but simple context change that happens based on which side of the debate we happen to be. I have taken this example many times and let’s start with it once again. I am talking to someone about plastic litter and it’s harmful effects and complain about how no one is doing anything and how people are so careless. Just a few minutes later, I might take my coffee-to-go in a plastic cup with plastic stirrer, sugar in a paper wrap just to throw it somewhere. Do you notice this around you? Maybe there is some special term for it, probably an official one. Rather than spending time to find and debate which tag name makes sense, let’s for the sake of this article name it “contextual amnesia”. This is simply about how in one context we completely forget what our own views are towards a particular topic.

I was once talking to a friend of mine. He was inviting me to come to his country of residence and start working there. He mentioned that we can be together and life will be interesting. Just couple of minutes later chit-chat moved in another direction. He was now complaining how life is just about work at his place and system has been designed to make you run like an hamster on a wheel. He was now saying that life is just about keep running and keep on paying mortgages and loans. I was confused now as to why then I should go there and live that kind of life. But, he didn’t seem to have realized that switch in his statements.

In another situation I was talking to someone, who in today’s terminology would be called a data scientist. He adores data and likes to believe that data is the key to decision making and it should not be a gut-feeling. I told him that social scientists have done research and as per them most of the decisions are made by people based on their instincts or biases and so on. Data is then usually found and transformed to fit that decision or from the available sets of data the one would be picked which is aligned with their pre-meditated decision. He did not accept it, but he did not defended his viewpoint on any data based study, but rather his own biases towards data importance. Few minutes later he said, all the studies that show that smoking is injurious and cause health issues are only hints. In his opinion all those studies shows is a correlation between smoking and diseases, but they fail to establish any causation between smoking and diseases.

In yet another interaction I was talking to someone and telling my views on the education system. This was a specific experience during my Master’s education. I said that we were forced to search and study what is available out there, so that we do not just create something which someone else has already done. My view point was that while this is a good idea, but it should not be strictly like that. Purpose of the education should be to provide an opportunity to develop the capacity of thinking by yourself. To develop the capability of problem-solving by yourself. I my opinion by forcing students to search first we are taking these opportunities away in 2 ways.

  • Student develop the habit to search first when faced with a problem than thinking about a solution by him/herself.
  • Today when there is so much is out there, lot of students may give up the search for that empty spot which no one has came across yet.

My partner in talk did not agree and he was of the opinion that it is important to search and find the unique opportunity. If you developed something which someone else has already done, it will not sell. But he forgot that Google was not the first search engine, Hotmail was the first email service. Anyways, just a couple of days later, we were in a meeting and he was tasked to review and evaluate existing market products in the domain we were developing our product. He then told me this does not makes sense, as we should be able to define what we want first. Otherwise, we will keep on reviewing what others have done and would end up jumping from one to another.

These are just few examples, that came to my mind at first while thinking about contextual amnesia. This just makes me wonder about the amazing capacity of our brain. This definitely helps us in some cases and provides us the ability to run parallel or conflicting ideas without causing a nervous short-circuit. At the same time, I wonder if this is the same capability that helps us get tagged as hypocrites?

Well, there maybe some benefits of contextual amnesia in our survival. If you know any book about that topic or have more information on neural basis of that behaviour please leave your comments. I only hope that we develop in a way that in whichever context we switch into, we do not lose our capability to smile and laugh.

Keep Smiling


Arundeep Singh

Mulla Nasrudin’s wife was upset and was confiding in her maid. “Do you know,” she said, “I suspect my husband is having an affair with the cook.” “OH,” cried the maid. “YOU CAN’T BELIEVE THAT. YOU ARE JUST SAYING THAT TO MAKE ME JEALOUS.”