The Doorway Effect

• ~300 words • 1 minute read

I remember my colorful, recently departed uncle starting a conversation like this:

"I recently read something about... doorways. Like when you walk through them, it does something to your brain. Something when you enter a new room... Hm. I don't remember."

He proceeded to take a sip of his homemade hooch and we carried on making memories at that family reunion, as we did for so many good years.

This was many years ago, and that anecdote always stuck in my brain. It piqued my curiousity, but I suppose never enough to warrant a cursory Googling (or ChatGPT-ing, as the turning tides may bring us) and so it bounced around in my head like a pebble in a shoe.

But just the other day, I noticed a link to a Wikipedia article in the Hacker News Newsletter that just said "doorway effect."

The gist of the thing is that human beings have a tendency to forget recent things when passing the boundaries, real or imagined. We're episodic, context-oriented creatures it seems.

Makes me think about the ways we use stories to communicate almost everything. The boundaries serve almost like chapter markers, and it's interesting to think that the trade-off for the context-switch that allows us to organize these memories in the first place is something almost like flushing the "cache" we'd accrued in the previous chapter.

Anyway, recognizing that my uncle kind of "forgot" what it was all about as he tried to explain many years later feels like a tiny gift. A funny joke that took tears to play out and landed at just the right time to produce a sweet memory of someone who is now gone.