Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting
by Lisa Genova
You remember special things like a first kiss, but you are less likely to remember your tenth kiss. To become a memory you will later recall, all that previously unrelated neural activity becomes a connected pattern of neural activity. To create a memory you need four things 1) Encoding or capturing the information 2) Consolidation or linking of unrelated bits together. 3) Storage where the chemical structural structure of the brain changes and 4) Retrieval or being able to recall the memory.
The Hippocampus is essential for memory consolidation. You need your Hippocampus to function in order to form new memories. Damage to this part of the brain will keep you from remembering any thing new, like in the case of HM or Henry Molaison. He had his Hippocampus cut to help prevent seizures and he was never able to make new memories again.
We don’t read memories like a laser reading a DVD. We can’t hit start and just play a scene in our mind. It is more complicated than that. The key to creating and later retrieving information lies in simply “Paying Attention” Two people having different memories of the same event comes down to what aspects of the event they paid attention to. We tend to ignore the things we don’t find interesting. Anything new, meaningful, consequential or emotional we will pay attention to.
Visuospatial Scratchpad is your Temporary Memory. If you are trying to remember the WiFi password you will repeat it over and over until you can type it in or write it down. Then you will most likely forget it. A Phonological Loop is the working Memory of sound. It is the world’s shortest soundtrack! It will last 15-30 seconds max. Chunking of information helps. That is why we break up a 20 digit phone number.
Semantic Memory relates to the memorization of facts. It helps to attach meaning to facts in order to remember them! Tools To Help with Memory: Repetition, Spaced Learning, Self-Testing, Meaning and Spatial Imagery Episodic Memory is the what we call the memory associated with Events. We don’t tend to remember our routines or the mundane very well. Big world events or disasters like 9/11 create a Flashbulb Memory. Everyone remembers where they were at or what they were doing when it happened.
To enhance Episodic Memory get out of your routine, get out of your device and look up from your phone, feel it with strong feelings, rehash it, keep a journal, log events onto a calendar, use social media to document your life
Muscle Memory is different from Declarative Memory. Muscle Memory improves with practice, but you don’t lose skill like you lose other memories over the years. Malcolm Gladwell theorized it took repeating an act 10,000 times to go from novel to expert level.
Why We Forget: We often end up in a game of telephone with ourselves and others. We don’t pay attention or get things mixed up. We can be given false memories by people who were also there. They may add information to our memory and we claim it as our own memory. 25% to 50% of people remember details of events that never happened. It is easy to manipulate memory. Witnesses can be lead into remembering something they didn’t see, hear or do.
TOT is Tip of the Tongue. We might not remember the name of an actor or something. We know we know it, but can’t spit it out. The Ugly Sister is when we remember a similar name, but still not the right name. You don’t have to be a Memory Martyr. If you don’t remember it, Google it. It won’t harm your memory to look up the information.
Perspective Memory is the To Do List of the Mind. Perspective Memory is like the flaky friend who says they will meet you somewhere, but totally forgets. Out of Sight means Out of Mind. If you don’t write down your To Do List, you probably won’t remember it—or very much of it at least. So write things down, use a calendar, write post it notes and post them all over the place, be specific with your plans and be aware if these plans will interrupt your routine.
Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve: Without deliberate attempts or strategies to retain what you learn, you will forget most of what you experience right away. If you want to retain the information you’ve managed to store in your brain, you will have to keep reactivating it. Revisit the information, reminiscence about events, rehearse what has happened or you want to happen, repeat the information frequently. The two keys to memory are Repetition and Memory.
Alzheimer is caused by amyloid plagues forming on the gilal cells. Eventually the neurons die off and kill you. What can help prevent Alzheimer’s? Sleep is one the biggest things you can do for yourself. Adults need 7-9 of sleep per night. Just getting 5 to 6 hours a night can impact your brain function. When you sleep, your brain cells are “cleaned.” When you don’t sleep as long as you should, the excess stuff doesn’t get swept away and can build up. Another huge risk is age. Anyone over 65 has an increased risk. Lower levels of Vitamin D and possibly lower levels of B12 can impact your overall neurological health. Whatever is good for the heart, is good for the brain.
Memory is not EVERYTHING. When our memory goes, we still have our emotions. We may not be able to understand why we feel like we do or when we began to feel that way or even who we feel that way about, but we will always remember the feelings of loss, pain, fear, love and joy. Those emotions stay with us until the end.