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What is memory? That's a funny question because memory is not a thing like a shovel, a cup of coffee or a lawn mower. The concept of memory has been studied throughout human history and is a major topic within cognitive psychology. The four parts or processes involved in memory are 1) consolidating the information, then 2) encoding, 3) storing and 4) retrieving it.

Thinking of computers might help us here. Computers use RAM (Random Access Memory) and ROM (Read Only Memory). When we are typing or using a computer program, we are using RAM, and all information we are putting on our screen is only temporary. Our work is lost if we turn off the machine. However, if we save it, it goes to ROM -- a permanent storage device -- and our work is protected. It cannot be changed until we bring it back up in RAM. (We are advised to save our information every 20 minutes. We never know when there may be a power failure or a glitch in the computer.)

Humans operate in much the same way. Have you ever had an idea in the middle of a conversation or as you're falling asleep, and decided to think about it or write it down at a convenient time? Usually, that thought is gone within a minute. That's in the RAM category. My dad told me numerous times, "If you have an idea, write it down. Paper has a longer memory than you do." He was right.

But when we study a topic, think or meditate on it, the thought or information is embedded in our mind, and permanently stored in the ROM classification.

People have a propensity for remembering different things or concepts. For example, some folks have a great memory for faces, others for numbers, yet others for history, and so on. Some folks have developed the ability to memorize large sections of narrative, such as Scripture, while others cannot. So, I suppose a useful definition of memory would be: The ability to retrieve or recall what we have learned and stored.

A major factor for humans in committing information to memory is interest. I can easily remember what I find interesting, and with what I use every day; otherwise, memorizing is not easy for me.

Because of human nature, the process of memory is flawed. How many times have you and someone close to you (spouse, sibling, lifelong friend) "remembered" the same event differently? Or perhaps you remembered an event while the other person said it didn't happen? Those are the times it is beneficial to exercise self-control. Don't fight or argue about it.

I don't know for how many years I've said in various social settings: Memories are not perfect. When two other people and I witnessed an automobile accident, all three of us gave different versions of what happened; and no one was wrong. Not only did we actually see things differently, we also had various ways of processing information.

For example, the woman was concerned about someone being injured, the other person was engrossed in the speed of the vehicles and damage done, while I recalled the chronology of what happened. But something else was even more interesting: As time passed and our minds subconsciously processed the events, new details surfaced while others were lost. Memories. It was a good thing we kept copies of our original report.

What's the test of whether or not you've committed something to memory? That's easy: can you recall the information? Or is it that easy? Maybe not.

When you look for a document or a photo you stored on your computer, you look for the icon to click on. Or you go to the search button and type it in. When you find it, it pops up. But there have been times you couldn't find what you were looking for. That's a bummer. You know you saved it, but you cannot find it. What happened? An electrical glitch, a lightning storm while your machine was plugged in, or a simple corruption in the computer system occurred.

In like manner, we humans sometimes try to remember something, but we cannot pull it to consciousness. We can't find it. Or sometimes it seems like the answer is on the tip of your tongue, but you couldn't quite bring it up. (That problem is called lethologica, and don't forget it.)

Again, it's the retrieval process that is the problem.

I'll finish this next week.


Editorial on 05/27/2020

Print Headline: A Course In Memory 101

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