Magnetic mind: memories are the fundament of our identity

Our mind is magnetic and we should use it! The power of our identity can shape the way we learn.  Our experiences and memories shape our identity. We assemble ourselves from bits and pieces and attract things we truly need. For more information read here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Dr. Manhatten’s story

Comic heroes often hold our deepest archetypical understandings, and as such may be considered carriers of our collective subconscious.

The story of a DC comic hero Dr. Manhatten starts from a young scientist being disintegrated by charged particles in a locked chamber. The particles then are attracted to each other, until he assembles himself into the most powerful being in the universe. Percieving time in a different way, he always feels the agony of this birth and another agony of the final demise, and at the same time, he feels every conversation and experience he had and will have, except for a short period of amnesia that he wants to experience as a regular man.

Why magnetic memory?

If you google up “magnetic memory” you come up with a blog of my colleague and friend Anthony Metivier. I refer to him on many other occasions, but here I do not want to advertise or plagiarize. Instead, I want to consider one of the basic qualities of our memory.

Since neurons work well in clusters, we tend to remember things that are deeply related to other stuff we care about. Our older memories magnetically attract our attention and the way new memories are formes. This “magnetism” looks like magic. Two different people will read the same article, yet they will remember very different things.

With practice, we can change the way our memory attracts new experiences, adding different mechanisms. The basic magnetism will still remain!

Pulling the identity from bits and pieces

Rarely our entire identity is torn to pieces. For example, this happens for a person who emigrates, whos business forecloses, or who needs to acquire a new profession. He loses his social status and social support group. His experience is not always relevant and new skills need to be learned. Even the language needs to be applied differently.

Fortunately, a person who undergoes such a profound change also gets several advantages:

  • The newly acquired skills offer a very different perspective on reality. As a result of keeping multiple perspectives, the person is more creative and capable of critical analysis.
  • Recovering from a profound shock we are often more resilient, compassionate and wise.
  • Being free of the tyranny of the old ways we can profoundly change. Moreover, we can control the direction of such a change.

Once the new core of memories is formed, it attracts bits and pieces of old memories. After several months the transformation is complete: we are reborn, possibly as stronger and better people.

Life is not a story

We all have an autobiographical narrative, a story of our lives. This is very similar to an identity card: something simple and readily available for presentation. Our lives often tend to be more complex.

In our real lives, we do not have a neat story arch, where all the elements combine to form a lesson for anyone brave enough to hear. We have multiple story arches attracted together in our memory. Some of them are interconnected, merging and branching. Others are deadends with no apparent resolution.

With time certain branches of our memory become stronger or weaker affected by the magnetism of new experiences. Our stories change accordingly, and this is OK. Strategizing entire life to follow and support one storyline may be very powerful, yet profoundly flawed.

What makes a memory personal?

Anna often tells her students to make their visualizations personal. Many students understand that the visualizations need to reuse events from their autobiographical memory. This may cause defocusing and unwanted thoughts about personal biography. What Anna means is much simpler: make the new memories magnetically attract to something in your personality.

Anything can be personal:  a brand name, a comics hero, even a color if it generates a strong emotional response. What makes a memory personal is a percieved reaction, magnetic resonance if you will, with your previous memories.

Recall and aging

As we age our memory gets more “magnetic”, and it makes harder to learn things voluntary. Moreover, it gets harder to recall things.

In a recent pair of studies in Denmark, participants were shown two films. As a measure of their voluntary memories, participants were asked to record as many details from the first film as they could remember.  As a measure of their involuntary memories, the participants were asked to record the approximate number of memories of the first film that spontaneously came into their minds while watching the second one.

In the voluntary memory phase of the study, older participants recorded approximately the same number of details as the younger participants but it took the older participants significantly longer to recall these details.

A second related study, designed to measure voluntary and involuntary memory frequency in a “real life context”.  As in the first study, younger and older participants recorded approximately the same number of involuntary memories.  Regarding voluntary memories, however,  the older participants reported a significantly lower number of voluntary memories.


Submarines undergo a process called “degaussing” to stop attracting negative attention with their magnetic field. Strong and shocking events often apply a similar degaussing to our minds, keeping them effectively younger and more active.

If you do not want negative shocks, try stepping out of your comfort zone intentionally. Learn a new subject or a new language, and see how you get an entirely new layer of associations. This is an addictive feeling, and I do not stop learning for as much as I live.

Our lives are not meaningless even if we feel otherwise, moreover, the amount of meaning in our lives is not stable. The meaning often comes from the profound changes the world has on us and we have on the world and other people in it.

We may view the tendency of our attention to be lured away from an important task by the various purple shells in our environment as a nuisance, but if the important task in which we happen to be engaged involves trying to remember something, we might just find what we’re looking for by following our attention wherever it leads us.

No simple truth

The profound understanding of how our memories and identity are formed is not comfortable. We are anything but constant, consistent and rational. Do not ask me how to triple these qualities. I do not have a convenient answer. It might be better simply to accept reality.

For example, we might lose the sense of simple truth. How any truth can be simple if we cannot trust ourselves? There is an objective numerical truth measured by physical devices, but it is neither accurate nor attractive. The statistical truth tends to represent reality better, leaving a margin for mistakes. The subjective truth is deeply resonating with us, but it might not be registered by any observer.

The Dr Manhatten comics hero is deeply nihilistic since he can register numerical and statistical information, but cannot create a subjective reality. He describes his biggest weakness as a profound lack of imagination. Maybe because imagination has very little to do with any simple truth.

Is a magnetic mind curious and empathic?

Instead of trying to grasp the things that are attracted to our magnetic memory, we can actively use our magnetic mind. What attracts our attention? Are we deeply curious about the world or deeply empathic towards other people? Is our mind quick are nimble? Do you feel too much and never enough at the same time? If so, you are not passively waiting for things to be attracted to your memories, but are actively drawn to them.

Can we generate a set of exercises that makes our mind magnetic? We kind of already offer this training. Simply try to memorize things using associations from different areas of your life: experiences of other people, fields of knowledge, perspectives on life. You can choose which kind of associations your mind generates spontaneously, by generating a certain type of associations voluntary before that.

Choosing your perspective

If you want to attract certain kinds of experiences and memories, use them as a basis of your visualization. This personal perspective (if you will) carries to other areas of life, activating our attention and magnetically attracting new events. Up to a point, we are who we choose to be.

If you do not understand what you see, today’s image is a magnetic core memory…


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