Thursday, 27 September 2018

Mislaid memories

My memory works in peculiar ways. I can't remember a conversation I had last week, but I can remember helping the milkman with his deliveries in the 1950s. I can't remember the name of someone I've seen umpteen times but I can remember being paralytically hungover on a London bus in the late 1960s.

My theory is that rather like a computer, the human brain accumulates more and more memories until by my age it's totally overloaded and it adjusts by instantly forgetting what it regards as irrelevant trivia and only remembering what's strictly necessary for my everyday survival.

So I can remember what date my state pension is due or the name of the electrician, but other dates and names slide rapidly into some memory black hole and can only be retrieved with sophisticated salvage equipment. Or by asking the woman with curly hair yet again what her name is, prefaced by the usual embarrassing apologies and ingratiating smiles.

One useful quirk of my forgetful memory is that I seldom recall insults or criticism. They slip rapidly into the black hole. Some people remember even trifling insults for years, brooding on them and cursing the person who uttered them, but for me they're simply water off a duck's back. I see insults as mindless acts of malice, not to be taken seriously.

Some people are so sensitive that an especially macabre or gruesome image can make them physically sick. The image sticks in their mind and they wish they'd never seen it. Luckily I don't respond like that. I don't want to expunge the image of the collapsing Twin Towers, or the girl fleeing napalm in South Vietnam, or the priest trying to stop carnage on Bloody Sunday in Derry. I want to know about these things.

But I'd quite like to obliterate all the memories of my dreadful boarding school. Painful memories I could do without.

21 comments:

Bijoux said...

I once learned all the different parts of the brain and which parts kept which type of memory. Unfortunately, I've forgottenšŸ˜‚

helen devries said...

When working I needed a good memory for the details of my current work...and the ability to discard it all to turn to the next job...
Now, my visual memory is good...I can see where I was, what I saw...but I have to concentrate to bring up other stuff...but once I have a start I can get there.

CheerfulMonk said...

I'm always amused by what I remember and what I forget. Who knows how that works? I'm like you, I mostly let the unpleasant ones go.

nick said...

Bijoux: Well, that's one up on me, I didn't even know there were different brain areas for different types of memory.

Helene: My visual memory is just as unreliable. Some scenes I can visualise vividly, others escape me completely.

nick said...

Jean: It's very handy being able to discard the unpleasant experiences. Brooding on past insults is a massive waste of time.

Rummuser said...

Depending on who comments, I am either blessed or cursed with a fairly good short term and long term memory. For quite how long that will remain the case is yet to be seen as I am seeing older friends suffering from failing memory but, if it comes to be, so be it. It will not be my problem will it?

nick said...

Ramana: Lucky you, still having such a good memory. And as you say, if your memory eventually fails, it'll be up to someone else to deal with it!

Wisewebwoman said...

Current memory is where I fall down badly. I instruct myself to roll up the windows of the car and forget. I tell myself I need bread at the bakery, one item, I forget.

I see my friends with fading memories and know my lapses are nothing like theirs. So there's that. But in journalling this morning something about the mind came up which I will post about later.

XO
WWW

nick said...

www: I do that all the time! I go purposively into the kitchen, then can't remember what I went in the kitchen for. Though often if I trace my thoughts back, I remember again.

I await your post and its revelations!

tammy j said...

I tend to forget trivia nowadays... whether it's what I ate yesterday for lunch or what year we had a rainy Autumn or even a Springtime tornado.
and yet happenings long ago I can even relate what was said! I don't know why. I have always tended to remember conversations. and actually I'm much more of a visual person than audio! or is it aural? lol. whatever. it's that pesky short term memory loss. but in light of two diagnosed concussions in my life that's not terribly bad!

nick said...

Tammy: I don't remember conversations at all. I can remember the gist if was something important or extraordinary, but the exact words completely escape me. I marvel at those people who can remember every word of a conversation. So I said...So she said....So I said. That's amazing.

Secret Agent Woman said...

One of my chemo effects is memory issues. I'm particularly having trouble with finding the word I want, which makes me feel 90 years old. It only seems to happen when I'm talking, though, not when I'm writing.

I'm one of those people haunted by gruesome images. Once I've seen them, they are there for life, returning in flashes that make me cringe. I wish I didn't have that, but it's why I avoid violent movies.

nick said...

Agent: That must be exasperating, not being able to find the right word. It happens to me sometimes.

That's unfortunate, being haunted by gruesome images. I also avoid violent movies, not because the images might stick in my memory but because I find the violence hard to stomach.

Jenny Woolf said...

I have been looking through some old diaries recently and am amazed at how much I don't remember. I think it could be a bit of a fallacy that you remember better what happened years ago... because I don't. Not that I remember massively well what happened recently either... so perhaps what you say is te real truth : that the brain simply fills up with too much stuff!

nick said...

Jenny: My Jenny finds that too when she's rereading her old diaries. There are lots of things she had totally forgotten. I like the idea of the overloaded brain. I think when you're a child and you still have masses of memory space things are much more likely to get firmly implanted.

Joared said...

Word finding problems often do become more prevalent as we get older. Numerous techniques can be used to compensate for that, some of which we also used with people who had stroke, other brain issues. Yes, memories are stored in many different areas, including via the various sensory systems. My earliest memory at about age 3 my mother confirmed when I described it to her forty plus years later was based on an unusual, and unpleasant smell, coupled with hazy visual impressions. Emotions associated with events can have significant bearing on what’s recalled, too.

nick said...

Joared: I agree, smells and visual images and certain emotions can often bring back associated memories. My memories of my schooldays are very much linked to images of the various buildings I lived in and studied in.

Danielle L Zecher said...

It makes sense that we don't remember things that seem unimportant or irrelevant to us. There's only so much space! I love it whenever I finally realize I've forgotten something I never wanted to know in the first place. I grew up in an extremely religious household, and had insane amounts of doctrine, etc. memorized. A few weeks ago my husband asked me something about my parent's beliefs and I couldn't remember their "reasoning". I was thrilled!

nick said...

Danielle: That sounds like a very positive development! Luckily my parents were quite indifferent to religion so I grew up without that indoctrination. I had to sit through an awful lot of religious crap at boarding school though.

Liz Hinds said...

And all the words of hymns from school assemblies. If my brain only retains what's important why those?

nick said...

Liz: I can remember a few hymns as well. But that was from the time when our brains had plenty of storage space....