When people get old, there is a slow breakdown in the brain’s ability to form new memories. For most of the time and for most people, the changes are not significant. Memory still remains good, it’s just not as good as it was. Sometimes things happen to the brain that severely affect a person’s ability to learn and form new memories. Memory formation occurs through a process of encoding, storage, and then retrieval. Encoding means taking information and consolidating it in order to efficiently store it. Storage is the process of putting the information somewhere safe for access later. Retrieval is searching for information in storage and pulling it out for active use. Retrieval is a vital part of memory functioning because what is the use of a memory that is never retrieved and used? We don’t remember things to gloat about how much information we have stored, we remember things in order to use them and, in the process, construct our futures.
Disruption to any part of the memory process will impair memory. If you disrupt encoding, information is not really learned. In this pure form, this is what is called anterograde amnesia – the inability to learn new things. If there is encoding difficulty, there will also be storage problems. Alternatively, there can be problems retrieving information from storage; the information is in there, someone just has a hard time getting it out. Sometimes all someone needs is a reminder – a cue – in order to retrieve information, other times, retrieval is severely damaged. When retrieval is severely damaged, a person will have retrograde amnesia, or the inability to recall past events (typically from before a brain injury or pathology). Retrograde amnesias are rarer than anterograde amnesias. Well, at least when we are talking about physical amnesias.
When we are born we have a veil placed on our minds. This veil keeps us from remembering the pre-earth life. This is a form of spiritual amnesia, a temporary retrograde amnesia. Like all amnesias, this spiritual amnesia is not complete. We can catch glimpses of our past through it. All people at some point feel the gentle massages of the Spirit and catch glimpses of the radiant light of the past. The memories are not destroyed; they were encoded and stored, we just cannot retrieve them at this time.
The good thing about our spiritual amnesia is that it is not caused by brain damage. We all lived with Heavenly Father before we came to this earth. Just because we don’t remember does not mean it did not happen. People with retrograde amnesia do not remember their pasts but they all had them. Our life here on earth is simply a continuation of a life that started a long time ago in a beautiful place. When we pass from this life our spiritual amnesia will dissipate at some point. We will have a wonderful (and maybe terrible if we realize that we did wrong) recollection of all we did and learned before our mortal lives. This is why we are told constantly in the scriptures to remember, remember, remember. We must remember our God, we must remember who and Whose we are, we must remember all that He has done for us.