Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon, says that our brains never forget anything. Memory is truly a fascinating study because everything about us as individuals relies on memory. When an elderly person gets dementia and starts to lose their memories, they lose their personality, their grip on reality, time, everything. And since everything we do goes through our minds, it’s my mission to make mine better so no matter what I do, it will be my very best.
Search Engine Fatigue
When we can’t remember things we just Google it. And that’s a great tool but it has side-effects. Like the less time you spend trying to remember something, the more likely you are to forget it. But then there’s Dr. Carson. Apparently we don’t forget anything. So, to reword the previous, the less time you spend trying to remember something the less likely you are to be able to find it again.
The Issue is Finding
The only equilibrium I’ve found here is in the way I think, the way I take notes, and the way I Google. Example. When storing data, I take as many notes as I think necessary, as many as I need to follow the bread-crumb trail back to the idea or thought itself. (Typically that idea is vague and foggy because we all think in very generalized, abstract terms; so the foundational step of remembering is just thinking more clearly in the present, holding yourself accountable to say What is this actually saying to me. Be ruthless.) Later I review the notes I know I’ll need most because even if my brain doesn’t forget, I forget how to get back to them. Again, the goal of the review is to test myself. The goal isn’t to have perfect notes (I need to hear that again: THE GOAL ISN’T TO HAVE PERFECT NOTES), but to be able to recall the data in your mind. So use the review as a way of helping you remember.
Remembering = Finding
We don’t remember things at random; it’s always by connection. I think if you put a guy in a white padded room for a few years he’d eventually have no memory because he’d slowly forget all the connections, the associations he had in his regular life. The connections are what give us meaning, and they are what ascribe value to our ideas. So the more connections you can make on an idea, the bigger it becomes in your mind-palace and the more likely you are to find it from a crazy number of starting points.
So when you go looking for data, instead of relying on search-engines, try to think your way back to the connection. Your efforts are very hard and slow and obnoxious—not to mention humiliating because you feel like a fool trying to remember something so basic—but they are very worth it because next time it will be easier. Not just for that idea though, for EVERY OTHER idea. It all compounds because 1) everything is connected and 2) connections make meaning. Those connections seem mundane and pointless today, but since “the connecting is the thinking,” each time we take the easy way out and put off the pain of abstract thought, we give over another synapse, another depth, another level of our humanity and innate brilliance to The Google.
You can’t do this all the time, so here are some ways I find it practical to not just fight The Google with this smug mean-mug, but with a smiling, co-laborer-mug. Yes, I think there is a way we can use both Google and our brains.
- Try to connect emotions to thoughts so that in order to find that thing, you can’t really put words to it. If you can imagine how that book or film made you feel, you can typically find another connection you couldn’t before which may lead you to it.
- Use mnemonic devices. Rhyme stuff together. (aka make really cheesy connections with sounds that are really easy to recall but which carry a connection otherwise much harder to create.
- Review, review, review (in your mind, of course). Spend time each day gaining control over your mind, finding locations for thoughts, and coming to terms with what you think you know and what you actually know.
- Take copious notes. Review your notes. Test yourself on your notes. But for God’s sake, stop trying to make them look perfect. Messy notes are fine as long as the brain isn’t.
- Connect ideas with objects, with scenes, whatever pops into your head (the more you do this, the more will be there as available material). Sometimes I’ll learn a concept which screams at me a Veggie-Tales song. Go with it. That concrete connection is worth its weight in gold.
- Again, concretize everything you can. We think so abstractly. Apply the thought to a real thing in time and space and you’ll be shocked at how that form gives, well, form to your thought.