My Own Personal Incubus

Do you ever just get a hankering to hear a certain song or listen to a certain CD? I was driving to work the other day and for no ostensible reason I got the most intense drive to listen to my Incubus CD “Make Yourself”. I popped the it into my ravenous Kia and off we went.

I love that album but it always makes me feel like a teenager again. I think I bought it when I was a freshman in high school and listening to it brings me such poignant memories they almost feel like the present. I have such vivid scenes in my head that correspond with each song and it’s incredible to me that these memories/feelings/perceptions have endured for the better part of a decade.

There are PET scans and all kinds of fancy psychological studies that can visually show where different kinds of memories live in the brain. For instance, memories linked to smell occur toward the back of the brain, the more primal side, whereas visual memories occur toward the front of the brain.

When someone remembers something there are always “hot-spots” that light up in the brain, areas where neural activity increases so that the memory can be recalled.

This is not to say that memories are always correct. Memories are often incorrect, as time and emotions alter and change perceptions and can shift a person’s recollection of what really occurred.

I think I could spend days talking about human memory, it was always one of my favorite topics in school. It’s also altered the way Wes and I talk about things. When both of us have different recollections of an incident we will stop talking about that incident since it’s obvious one of us is wrong and there’s no way to establish who (this has saved us a lot of pointless arguing).

There’s one theory about memory in particular that I’ve always found fascinating. It was introduced to me by Thomas Harris of all people (author of Silence of the Lambs). The theory is basically that you can increase the amount you remember by associating items you would like to recall with physical things in your house.

For instance, if I wanted to remember my brother’s anniversary I would associate the date with, say, the vase in the kitchen. Every time I looked at that vase I would think “Nick’s anniversary is September 10th” and every time I needed to recall Nick’s anniversary I would think of the vase and the association would naturally occur.

Harris translated this theory into the idea of a “Memory Palace” wherein one constructs a palace in the mind and each hallway and room is filled with items that bring to mind certain memories.

I have not personally constructed a memory palace because I do not have a pressing need to store and retain large amounts of information. What I have applied from this theory, however, if the ability to string together emotions to remember things. In my mind, memories are stored according to emotions and random thoughts.

One example of this is mundane tasks. Sometimes I have trouble remembering whather I have done a routine task that I do every day (“Did I start the washer? I know I put the detergent in but did I push the start button?”). In order to recall whether I did or did not push the start button, I recall what I was thinking about when I was putting the detergent in (in this case I was imagining what would happen if someone tried to attack me for letting Doc use the restroom on their lawn. Bad scene). I follow this trail of thought and in doing so re-create the scene in my mind and realize yes, I did start the washer.

Now I’m going to try to tie this whole messy post together. In place of a memory palace I think I have constructed memory hallways. Each door leads to another hallway and all I have to do is follow the hallway I was on when the memory was imprinted and I can recall how I was feeling, where I was sitting, and what I was thinking. It’s tricky navigating all those hallways, though, and if the stimulus doesn’t correspond exactly with the memory I’m trying to retrieve I’ll never find my way.

I think this may be why I forget important things sometimes or have a ridiculously easy time remembering random bits of trivia. The important memories get imprinted but I forget how to find them again or the memory is really easy to access so I have no trouble bringing it to mind. I wonder what my excuse will be when I get old, though.

I think this may be the reason they commit me when I’m older. I’ll forget to get dressed before leaving the house and as all the embarrassed people try to usher me back into the house I’ll try explaining about the hallways and they’ll lock me up for incurable senility. I’ll probably meet Wes in there when that happens, though. He’s been planning to go senile for as long as I’ve known him.

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