[Unfortunately I wrote this but forgot to publish it. Which is ironic given the title of this post. I will publish this week’s post shortly]
I suffer from phone amnesia. At least, that’s what I call it. Here’s how it works, or rather, doesn’t work. I answer the phone and talk for any amount of time. I put the phone down and my wife asks me who was on the phone. Often I cannot recall. I literally cannot recall who I was just talking to.
If I mentioned the persons name in my conversation, my wife will ask what “person X” wanted. Very often I will not remember at all what the point of the call was. The effort I make to remember is almost painful.
I’ve noticed that it is often the case people don’t recall what the point of the conversation was, and on the contrary if the person who takes the call wants to tell someone about the call immediately they will have no problems.
So it seems that when we hang up the phone we also hang up our recall at the same time, sort of like filing a letter away. A few minutes later we may remember the call and what it was about. If we’ve trying to remember what it was about, it comes as a great relief!
I appear to have a more extreme version of phone amnesia, but it seems to me that many people have this issue to some limited extent.
This all started me thinking about quizzes and recall. I like quizzes and do them all the time. What constantly surprises me is the answers that I know, in subjects which I have no interest in. I recently knew the answer to a question about women’s fashion, a topic which doesn’t interest me in the least.
Another example was the question about the date of some historical event. I’ve never been good at history. I can’t remember dates, you see. But I knew the correct answer to a history question, the answer to which was a date! Of course I can’t now recall the question or even the quiz. All I can recall is that I was astounded that I knew the answer.
Yet if another history question were put to me, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to answer it. But I could be wrong about that just as easily.
It seems that my brain is storing information about things that I have no interest in and I don’t recall even hearing, but for some reason a part of my mind decides to remember stuff.
If I try to memorise something, it means reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the information until it sort of sink in. It’s like parading the information in front of my mind until it can’t help but remember it. We sort of bore the mind into remembering the information.
And all the while the mind is remembering fleeting facts that we barely notice as they flit by. Facts that are of little real interest to us.
Of course memories are not reliable. I “remember” something that happened to one of my sisters when she was small. Her push chair rolled down a small slope and crashed into the barrier round a small flower bed in the park. Over the other side of the barrier was a pond, I was worried that she would fall into the pond.
When I visited the spot many years later I was astounded. The flower bed was there and so was the pond. The distance between the barrier and the pond was such that she could never have fallen into the pond after hitting the barrier unless she was moving at a huge speed. Also there were no paths sloping down to the flowers and pond. The paths were all definitely up the hill.
It’s likely that there were some real events which led to me having this “false memory”. It may be that my sister’s push chair did roll away some time, or maybe my parents suggested that the push chair might roll away if I didn’t hold it tight. My mind could have turned the memory of the suggested event into a memory of the event as if it really had happened.
My mind obviously built a worst case scenario around the event and associated it with somewhere that I knew. It altered a few details, the long hill down to the barrier and the pond, the narrow distance between the barrier and the water. It’s much more exciting that way, and “exciting” seems to be more memorable.
Back to the phone amnesia. When I do remember what the phone call was about (may be hours later), I can recall most if not all of the conversation, not word for word, but in general gist. It seems that the information was stored in memory, but the links to it were missing.
This is similar to old feeling that something is “on the tip of your tongue”. You know (or believe) that the information is there, but you can’t access it. I expect that much of the time the memory is not there, and we only remember the times when it is recalled at a later time. That “tip of your tongue feeling can be very strong though.
It appears that our minds have memories of events (or pseudo-memories of events) and also memories of memories of events. The links between the two can fade out or maybe not be created properly in the first place, so that we can remember that we have a memory of something but we can’t access that memory, and the memories of memories of events are more easily accessible. It’s like a sort of unreliable index to the rest of the book that comprises our memories.
The rest of the memory book, the actual memories, can be fact or fiction or both (like any biography or history book), which makes life interesting in so many ways. Every couple have had conversations about events that have happened to both, and in some cases the two people might be talking about different events, so different are their memories of it.