Sunday, January 09, 2011

What I've forgotten

A book review caught my eye this morning during the daily infusion of caffeine via Black Mountain Pine tea. Reviewing the "The Memory Palace" it briefly explained the eponymous concept: "a mental technique by which scholars could build an imaginary palace to keep their memories safe, creating a visual image for everything they wanted to recall and creating a particular place for the image inside the mental palace."

Relying on my source for all things sciencey, Wiki explained further that it is a "general designation for mnemonic techniques that rely on memorized spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorial content."

Memory is intriguing. My husband has an astounding memory. And, whether learned or inborn, he has techniques that assist him in doing so. He can often remember where he was and/or what he was doing on particular dates, citing music heard, people seen or places visited. I'll have to ask him more about how this works for him, if it's a visual process for him. If I can remember to do so . . . .

Memory is intriguing to me in part because mine is so, um, spotty. During law school, I achieved straight Cs initially because I had never learned how to study. I did, though, discover that I could memorize then recall my course outlines verbatim during exams. Coupled with a crash course in thinking and analysis, this (as you might imagine) improved my grades greatly.

Since I could actually see the outline in my head, I suspect this is similar to a memory palace or the method of loci. One word led to another and so I could see them all. For about 72 hours. Unfortunately, it faded after that--as does almost everything else that I try to remember. Each day, I forgot more than the rest of you all remember. Really. I don't even know what I don't remember.

I was at a funeral yesterday and a woman approached, smiling warmly. "Liz, don't you remember me?" Um, nope. Not a clue. Even after she explained who she was/is, discussed how we watched our children play together in the church nursery for several years and that we worked on a church committee together, I still don't really remember her. Her son's name rings a faint bell.

After gazing at her for a few minutes, I thought she looked familiar. But was that simply because I had gotten used to see her for a few moments, or because I was remembering her? Her son's name seemed familiar. I almost thought I could picture him playing with Annie. But was that because I really could recall that image or because I wanted to?

Perhaps I don't have a poor memory. Perhaps I am simply just not confident enough to believe in what I think I remember. Maybe memory is all about the confidence to believe in what you think and experience and then store.

And what I wonder about memory palaces is related to that: how do we really know that what we've constructed was/is real? If the memory is constructed, whether consciously or unconsciously through technique, how do we know that it is representative of what actually occurred?

Consider the ubiquitous experience of siblings memories and how they differ. Assuming good will and intent, why don't we remember the same thing? Yes, of course, we are different people viewing events through different lenses and so, by our very nature, events will be remembered differently because they ARE different for each of us. But aren't there certain parts of any event that clearly happened? How do we decide what those are?

What part of memories are real? If I don't remember something, did it really happen?

Perhaps I've had too much caffeine . . . .

Liz ;-)


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