We may train our memory and read texts, but then how much of that will we remember just after a day? We may go further, create notes and review them for a while, but eventually, we will stop. How much will we remember after twenty years? Does memory training work at all when we consider long time periods? For today’s reading links, I prepared here, here, here, here, and here.
Losing my childhood memories
I must confess, my long term memory is not very good. I can probably remember an article I read 20 years ago, yet I have a hard time remembering my childhood home, or people I worked with on my second job. It’s not like I am a freak. I deeply care about the people around me, and I am deeply attached to my home. For years my forgetfulness did not strike me as strange. I enjoyed ever new experiences, innovative ideas, new faces ad strange places. Around my 40th birthday, a girl who went to the same class of the elementary school as did I contacted me.
Apparently, many of the classmates were still friends. I rejoined the group and was surprised by how vividly they remember the town I grew in. They recognized my parents, remembered the streets of the town, each other’s relatives and the games they played with each other. They even remember me as a part of that group. This was all wonderful, and these people are my friends, except… I personally do not remember any of it… I remember certain pieces of childhood like photos, time stopped by a flash. These pieces are glued together by facts I know from my biography but that does not really mean anything for me. Its like remembering a mindmap while others have full memory palaces: they can relieve the experiences, while I simply remember they were there.
Mental palaces of times long gone
For most people, personal memories are very strong memories. When we ask for spontaneous visualization, people often come up with objects and places from their childhood. When asked to create the first memory palace, people often choose their first home. The first home memories are usually very strong, and they can be used to store new information with great consistency. Other places are often forgotten but not really gone.
When we revisit these places, see the pictures and the objects from the times long gone, old memories often resurface. The memory is probably stored in our brains as a sort of cluster. People, places, things, and events are deeply interconnected and infused with meaning. When we do not use certain memories for a long time, they kind of drift away, but they still stay clustered. Often a clue from the past can resurrect the entire cluster of memories. People who visit the town where they were born, occasionally start remembering many things from their past. Some of my classmates came back to the town of our childhood. I did not. Maybe if I went there, the old memories would resurface…
Feelings vs understandings
Mindmaps and flowchart are much more natural for me than mental palaces. To form mindmaps I simply remember the objects of interest and how to get from one to another. When I am driving, I often remember the name of the street and where I need to turn, but I do not really remember the buildings or other landmarks, except for certain monuments. Remembering a book in this way is pretty neat. I remember the main ideas and how the author went from one idea to another. Remembering the childhood this way, I remember the main themes, but I do not really remember the details. It’s like reading a book about my own past. People who remember the mental palaces often report the opposite experience. They have very deep and strong feelings, and memories of certain details within, but with time they lose the big picture.
What do we value more: the feelings and the nostalgic details or the big picture and the understandings it brings? Ideally, I would love to have both. Maybe use some sort of dual coding or a hybrid between mindmap and mental palace. I definitely have the relevant tools [you are welcome to see in http://keytostudy.thinkific.com/courses/keytostudy-memory-masterclass]. The big question is: what will I remember 20 years from now? Will I remember the joy I feel when hugging my children or kissing my wife? Will I remember the tastes of the food I eat or the sounds of the music I hear? I am pretty sure I will remember a large part of what I learn, but will it make me happier?
Correcting mistakes of the memory
Our memories make mistakes. It is normal and well documented. We try to reconcile our current thoughts and understanding with past events. Occasionally we modify the memories of the events to make them more manageable. When we replay the past in our mind, we also modify it a bit. It is not entirely clear which part of the memories is true unless there are written records. Quite often I compare my memories with the memories of my parents, and there is nothing common. Like we are talking about different events.
Whose memories are wrong? It is hard to tell. Some things I could clarify with my classmates. Others will remain a mystery. Some of my memories are not really mine. I remember very well visiting a classmate when I was ten years old and listening to her playing the piano. I do not remember the piano or the music she played. She is a composer now. Recently she visited the conservatory where she learned and was celebrated by a symphony of her own creation. I guess if I met with people from my old chess club, I might get additional perspectives.
In a way, we are several different people sharing the same body. As we change the language in which we think, or go from home to work and vice-versa, or meet with friends from a different period in our lives, we become slightly different. Even different parts of the brain are activated by the same images. If these different sides of our personality do not agree, the memories change…
Revisiting math tricks
Being parents, we kind of revisit our lives with our children. When they are at school, in a way we can revisit our own school time. I used to be pretty good at math. My kids often need to multiply and divide large numbers. If they do not want to use a calculator they ask me. The strange thing: I did not have to do many computations in my head since I was a child, yet I do them pretty well, maybe even better than when I was a child.
First of all, I am trying to work left-to-right, approximating the expected result and then verifying the approximation. I do not need to remember or visualize all the numbers I learned to write down as a child since I simplify everything and keep just the accumulated results. I tried to teach this method to my children, but they see too many details and miss the big picture. Then I remember myself as a child, and I remember the mistakes I used to make.
I was a good student and did not make many mistakes, so some of the mistakes I actually made I can remember. I revisit these mistakes occasionally, simply to see how my mind works differently. When I was younger I was able to cope with much more work, but now I am capable of finding the right things to do and rarely need to work hard. I do many things, but working hard for me today is as rare as making math mistakes when I was a child.
Things vs experiences
Strangely I remember things better than I remember experiences. Most coaches recommend to focus on experiences and not on things, but for me, things often are in the heart of the experience. I remember the inner parts of watches I used to disassemble as a child before I even went to school. I remember my schoolbags. At least three of them. I remember some of the things I used to keep in them. For example, I can visualize some of my old books and notebooks, especially since I used to doodle. I remember some of my watches since I was 13 till I became 36 years old.
My parents took me to many beautiful places. As a chess player, I visited many other places before I was 13 years old. Yet I do not remember these experiences. I do remember some of the clothes I used to wear as a child and how they felt. I also remember the furs my grandmother used to have, and her walking stick. This is very strange since my taste now is very different and I experience things differently. Anna always argues that I should buy fewer things and more experiences, yet I remember the things better.
The effects of brain training for very long timespans
Brain training helps to learn things better and faster. Yet I do not feel that my emotional memory improved. I am very good and recalling books, but I do not remember the toys of my children all that well. How much will I remember 20 years from now? Will I remember their smell and the softness of their skin? What about the small and stupid arguments we have from time to time? Will I remember their recitals, as they are talented musicians and perform from time to time? How much do I remeber now from the kindergarten parties? I really do not know.
In super learning, we sometimes tie the things we learn with the personal memories. As we use our memories, something is lost. Certain unique details are replaced by templates. Also, I am not sure which of the super learning methods apply after 20 years. The things we remember after so much time are often flashbulb memories, strengthened by rare events or by a fluctuation of memory. I do not even know how to test different methods with such a huge timespan. Such an experiment would be very hard to make.
One of the reasons why remembering distant past is so hard is our own mental health. Sure, elephants remember everything, since this way they remember where they found water 20 years ago. They need to remember or die. Humans are different. We have regrets. Some of us are haunted by regrets for the things we did and the things we did not do.
One of my classmates asked for my forgiveness because she felt regret for how she treated me a very long time ago. I did not even remember the situation and had very good memories of the girl. So it was easy forgiving her. I do regret some things I did when I was a child. I wish I would not keep the emotions so bottled up and I wish I could speak up my mind back then. There is nothing I can do about it.
For a while, I preferred to forget my past than to relive the pain of regrets. Other people relived the joys of their childhood and reviewed the childhood time after time. I guess the true lesson is reviewing past memories and reliving the joys of positive experiences. Otherwise, we would probably forget. There are many ways to deal with regrets, and the price of forgetting is probably too high.