www.whyville.net Jul 4, 2003 Weekly Issue

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This morning I couldn't find my cell phone. I racked my brain trying to figure out where I'd left it. After 20 minutes of searching, I found it on my kitchen table, ahm, just where I'd left it yesterday night.

So, what does this have to do with this article? Everything! Later, I got to thinking... why do we forget? Thanks to a wonderful book and some interesting websites, I believe I have found the answer!

There is no real evidence that we ever forget anything! It's all in there... somewhere. Anyway, remembering is a lot like that old saying "searching for a needle in a haystack." The trick to retrieving memories is all in how we organize our thoughts. So when someone says, "Oh, my memory is going," it really means that their "retrieval system" isn't working well.

Psychologists know that memory is "linked" to the 5 sense-organs: the ears, mouth, nose, eyes, and tongue. Each of these things has a different time span called sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.

Sensory memory only holds the information for a second or two. Let's say you look at a picture of a puppy. A nearly identical image of that puppy is stored briefly in your visual sensory memory. But the image quickly fades and eventually disappears unless you make a direct effort to remember it.
Short-term memory (I think this is the category I mean to focus on) is what you are thinking of, actively, at that particular moment. This type of memory can hold a fact for as long as you think about it. You use short-term memory when you look up someone's phone number or address in the phone book. You repeat the phone number (or address) to yourself as you dial or write it down. Unless you continuously repeat this information to yourself (I must lose my cell phone again, I must not lose my cell phone again, I must not lose my cell phone again!) it will fade away in a matter of 20-30 seconds.

Long-term memory (something I definitely do not think I have) can store facts, experiences and ideas after you stop thinking of them. Did you know that there was a man named Myanmar Yangoon who could recite 16,000 verses of Buddhist text by memory?! Another man named Mahadevan can recite the value of pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, starting with 3.14159...) up to several thousand places of the decimal! Even though this data may seem amazing, even phenomenal, almost everyone can remember loads of information, if they only have the right retrieval system. :)

Another reason people forget is because they just don't understand the information, so they make no effort to call it back and eventually it just fades away. Have you ever noticed that it's so easy to remember the words to a song, even years after you first heard it? Well, that's because the words are put to a catchy tune and you are able to call it back easier. You can apply this anything! Such as, "Oops, I did again... I left my cell phone on the table... maybe I'll find it again... ohhh...."

I hope this clears up some questions and leaves you with a better understanding of something that is perfectly normal but annoys us to no end.

Now, where did I put that pencil?!


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