Your life as a story: using autobiographic memory

Quite often we can view our life as a story. People often tell that before the clinical death they could see their whole life passing before their eyes. This is the autobiographic memory in action. Autobiographic memory is very important in our life. We can train it, we can use it to remember other things, we can guide it if we need.

Near-death experiences

What happens in near-death experiences? The brain does not get enough oxygen and the activities that require brain energy stop to function. The eyes stop moving so we get tunnel vision. We do not have enough brain power to process the surrounding signals, so we feel no pain or hunger or anger. We get very quiet, almost meditative. We do not have strength to create new imagery, so the most basic, stable low energy imagery activates once again. And then our whole life passes in front of our eyes…

I never experienced clinical death, yet all accounts are remarkably similar, so I tend to believe. The visualization of our life is probably the most basic low energy memory we have, it is the most resilient, it comes to us when we sleep in strange grotesque forms, and it is probably the last memory we see.

Time and again

Our internal clock is strongly dependent on new experiences and new visualizations. When we enjoy the time flies, and when we are bored the time stops. When we have a lot of experiences, we can pinpoint a moment, and when the life is dull years can pass without generating a single event. Do you remember the first day of your last vacation or on a new job? Do you remember the fourth day of the vacation with as many details?

We use our autobiographic memory to remember events important to us and to measure time. Therefore unlike the regular visual memory that is very much parallel, the autobiographic memory is more like a movie. When we become old, we can have difficulties remembering new information, yet our autobiographic memory gets very clear.
We can use our autobiographic memory to remember the most important stuff as if it happened to us, then we will probably never forget.

Emphathy and lucid dreaming

Our limbic brain, the brain we developed as mammals, allows us to experience the feelings of other mammals. The specific mechanism is called “mirror neurons”, you can google about them. This means that we can experience events that did not happen to us as if they happened to us. We interpret these events as a sort of a dream, and can separate them from reality.

Quite frankly we do remember some dreams, so called “lucid dreams” as if they were real. Lucid dreaming can be induced meditatively or chemically. Some people spend their time getting into this dream-like state and manipulating the dream’s reality. Eventually, these dreams get entangled into our autobiographic memory, generating rich strange experiences.

Using autobiographic memory to remember things

When we need to remember things important for our life, we can encode them into autobiographic memories. Basically, we generate a story encoding the facts we want to remember as if it happens to us. Then we integrate the story with details of a true real-life location, and visualize in all details, till we remember the story as a dream. If you are a guy, you would probably want to remember this way your marriage day, your wife’s birthday, and some other things you do not want to forget.

For example, in a Jewish marriage, we break a glass. I broke mine from the first attempt. Yet I memorized myself breaking 2 glasses from fourth attempt to memorize the exact date: 24th. Then I remember that the event happened two weeks before by wife’s birthday which happens to be in December. I visualized these two weeks as circled dates in a calendar. I am pretty sure the calendar was real, but I never circled these dates in my own life.

Mathematical constants can be easily encoded into autobiographical memory. I remember the number pi by a song we used to sing about our classmates, where each word encoded a digit.

Geographical and historical data of the places we visited can be encoded into the memories we have from the visit.

Training autobiographic memory

Even though the autobiographical memory is very strong, to begin with, we do want to make it stronger and more accurate. There are several ways to achieve this:

  1. Writing diaries. When we write a diary we force ourselves to remember all events of the relevant day, when we review it we remember things that happened long ago. There are variations: writing what we are grateful for, to do lists, photo-diary.
  2. Remembering movies. Quite often when we see a movie or even read a book, we are drawn into the content as if it happened to us. This event activates our autobiographic memory. The more accurately we can reproduce a movie, the better our memory of it is.
  3. Storytelling.  Lying requires a lot of mental processing to keep the versions straight and remove possible mistakes. By lying we train our memory. Do not lie about the important things, there is the issue of integrity.  Tell stories instead. Make stable and detailed stories and tell them to people if you wish. Any religion is full of such stories.

What is real?

Sometimes our autobiographic memory mixes dreams and reality. You can use it, transforming the reality you do not like into dream-like vision and replacing it by vivid visualization. This technique is balancing being morally wrong, so do it only as the last resort. For example, we can understand that we remember some event wrongly, and we see documented evidence of the event. Then we can correct our memory.
Personally, I encoded 10 years ago that “friend class can access protected class but cannot access private class” as an interview question. I am not sure if the job interview was real, but I do know that the friend class CAN access private class. So I needed to modify my memory to prevent future mistakes. I simply modified the memory of the job interview, adding to the wrong interview details of wrong (transforming the interviewed person into an imp-like creature).

Takeaways

Autobiographic memory is incredibly strong and a good way to remember information that is not about to change and will serve us for a long time.
We generate dream-like stories that sort of happen to us to encode the information into autobiographic memory.
Just like any other memory, autobiographic memory can be trained and manipulated.

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