July PsychNotes • Sweet Memories

July 1, 2016 by Shawn Smith

palaceIt’s been ten years and one child since I wrote a blog post titled How Does Memory Work? It’s held up well, for the most part. It’s one of the more frequently visited posts because memory is fascinating business. Here are some more recent thoughts from more smarter people.

1. Your Brain Is Not a Computer
The brain doesn’t lend itself to handy computer metaphors. “Here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories… Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them—ever.” It’s tempting to compare the brain to a computer but there’s a better way to think about it.

2. How Reliable Is Memory?
“Much like our ability to switch the name John with Jack without realizing, we can quite easily change details of more important events in our memories without noticing.” Memory is notoriously unreliable. People are even known to “remember” complete falsehoods. (That fact has led to embarrassing episodes in my own industry.)

3. How to Implant False Memories
If you read the first two articles, the language and metaphors in this one will seem awfully sloppy. Maybe even overly dramatic. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating account of implanting emotional memories into mice brains. It’s Total Recall on a very small, rudimentary level. Come to think of it, it’s nothing like Total Recall. Still interesting though.

4. You Can Grow New Neurons. Yes, You.
The common wisdom has long been that adults don’t grow new neurons. Here’s some evidence that we do, particularly in the hippocampus. That’s the region of the brain responsible for remembering hippopotamuses. This piece includes handy how-to techniques for cultivating neurons. As usual, they involve lifestyle choices. Sadly, there are still no free lunches where the brain is concerned. (Video)

5. A Useful Memory Technique
If you can get past the image of naked bicyclists, Joshua Foar describes the memory palace technique. Did you know there are memory competitions, complete with trophies? That’s good evidence anyone can develop a “trained, disciplined, cultivated memory.” (Video)

Book News: The title of my new book “Is He Worth It?” really rubbed me the wrong way. It had a negative vibe that didn’t suit the content, so I changed the title. It was probably an ill-advised strategy, but “Is He Worth It” Is No More. Now it’s called The Practical Guide to Men: How to Spot the Hidden Traits of Good Men and Great Relationships. Same book, different wrapper.

Other stuff: There are interesting new things brewing over at the blog, particularly a six-month experiment I’m starting with my own life. Maybe you’ll join me. More to come. In the meantime, don’t forget to click through my Amazon link if you want to help the website. See you in August!