Are researchers considering anterograde amnesia with the “computer-hard disk”-analogy perspective? Maybe they should. Alright, there’s no such thing in technical literature as a computer-hard disk analogy; I have just made that up. The point I want to make is computers have a finite amount of memory and if you insist on downloading hi-res movies, games and whatnots you are surely going to run out of storage space. You have limited choices when this happens – either erase some of the existing material to make room for new, or not download anything anymore ever-after. Thankfully our brains are not created this way. We don’t run out of storage space during our lifetime, unless one’s girlfriend happens to cross paths with a villainous Ghajini (international audience: please refer to the movie Memento).
How is it that computers or mobile phones run out of storage space but we don’t? The answer is very simple: Man made computer, The Bearded Man made human. It is not a matter of debate as to who is the better engineer between earth-dwelling man and the heaven-residing Bearded One – it is entirely a matter of faith. The Lofty Creator did not give man curiosity and say: “Careful with what thy hearest or readest, thou can only remember as much”, rather He said “I bestow upon thou the gift of curiosity, and an infinite capacity to remember. Thus, no matter what thou learnest, readest, thou shalt never forget the name of thy maker”.
Gifted as we are with such limitless storage space for trivia, all are not equally talented at neural spelunking – going deep inside the mind and retrieving pertinent piece of information at will. So, the difference between Sheldon Cooper and average human beings is not the capacity to remember, but the ability to recover. While Dr Hofstadter (Leonard’s mom) studies Dr Cooper’s brain to discover how to remember the things that matter as well as the ones that don’t, there are certain adages, idioms and old wives’ tales one can use, that have been employed with some success by regular joes over the years.
“To observe attentively is to remember distinctly” says Edgar Allen Poe in ‘The Murders In The Rue Morgue’, and imparts perhaps the greatest piece of advice to those who are historically challenged. Our bodies are getting bombarded with information: visual, aural, tactile, to name only a few, at any given instant. It is the information that we pay attention to that becomes an accessible memory. For instance, you will find it easier to remember the colour of dress your crush was wearing than what Book and what section within it was being discussed in the religious studies class. While your ears were receiving the words involuntarily, you were actively savouring the sight of your crush; inducing your brain into putting the sermons in “the last place you would look for” and the visual in “the place most frequently visited”.
Those predisposed to ruminate also seem to have a better memory, a fact that is expressed with the phrase: “use or lose”. Since you also keep thinking about your crush all day and all night long, you find it easier to remember details about her / him than about, say, your dentist. Which brings us to traumatic memories (see how dentist led us to trauma? This is memory by association). One’s emotions play a big part in determining whether a memory will be easily accessible or share neighbourhood with Aesop’s fables. If one sees / hears / touches etc something that invokes extreme emotion, that memory is as good as etched on the fore of the head. “A sin writes itself across a man’s face” says Oscar Wilde, which is true unless the person is a psychopath unable to feel anything. Moments of triumph or disaster are therefore remembered with ease. Of course, in case a memory is extremely painful, the brain, good sport that it is, will lock it in Davy Jones’ locker and sink it in Atlantic Ocean so that one doesn’t remember it and have a breakdown all over again.
“All this is mildly interesting”, you say “but what’s the use of knowing all this?” A valid question that! Let me sum it up: “In order to remember the chemical formula of di-hydrogen oxide, read it attentively, bang your head with a hammer when you do and keep repeating the formula in your head accompanied by the hammering. By the end of the day the examiner will be able to read it off your face.”