I struggle with my memory. It has been a key factor for me in many areas of my life. I am singer and when I am on stage there are many things to remember, the first would be the song lyrics. There are many things happening simultaneously while performing and if your nerves get the best of you, as they do me, the lyrics will disappear quickly and what kind of performer forgets their lyrics? It has also plagued me in my capacity for learning. I have always struggled with tests my whole life. I have an amazing brain and I know that I have strong processing skills and yet when it comes to test time, I freeze up, I cannot recall anything that I spent hours and hours trying to absorb. Chapters five and six on short term and long-term memory really hit home for me. I understand the process of sensory memory to short term memory to long-term memory back to short term memory, and still the experience eludes me.
In the process of doing research for this blog, I stumbled on a Ted Talk titled feats of memory anyone can do by Joshua Foer. In this 20-minute video he explains how people for centuries have been using these very fine tuned techniques to expand their capacity for memorizing almost anything. He calls it the memory palace. He begins his talk with asking the audience to close theirs eyes as he describes the most ludicrous images to everyone. These images include cookie monster, a talking tan horse, Brittney spears singing along with Dorothy and the tin man all in your living room. These images provoke certain memories that help anchor the bits of information that you are working to retain he explains.
He went on to explain that once upon a time people invested in their memory and their minds. We have become a society that now outsources our memories with technology, smart phones, and computers. It seems we have forgotten how to remember. In researching how people who were memory champions seemed to be able to retain so much information in very short periods of time, these researchers concluded that the part of the brain that uses spatial memory and navigation was being used and stimulated. They titled it elaborative encoding and the trick is to associate something that is very familiar to something you are trying to remember that may be mundane. They call it the Baker/Baker paradox. The name baker may mean nothing to you and has no real meaning that would make it unique to all of the other information that is swirling round in your cognition, but if you tell someone the man is a baker, you begin to associate things that go along with a baker; good food, a large white hat, little anchors that will help navigate your Nero pathways in order to recall the memory.
This is an art form that some people have mastered and they have found a system of taking words and content that have no meaning to them at all and associating meaning to the content in order to stimulate cognition. I am very interested in this technique and it seems that a good memory is also a sign of intelligence. So what I have come away with is that great memories are learned. They create a mindfulness that is present and that draws meaning into what is being observed and remembered. This is great news for me, because there may be hope for my memory yet.
Filmed Feb 2012 • TEDTalk2012