1 Is Your Memory Perfect

Your memory is phenomenal. This statement is made despite the following counterarguments:

1 Most people remember fewer than 10 per cent of the names of those whom they meet.

2 Most people forget more than 99 per cent of the phone numbers given to them.

3 Memory is supposed to decline rapidly with age.

4 Many people drink, and alcohol is reputed to destroy 1000 brain cells per drink.

5 Internationally, across races, cultures, ages and education levels, there is a common experience, and fear of, having an inadequate or bad memory.

6 Our failures in general, and especially in remembering, are attributed to the fact that we are 'only human', a statement that implies that our skills are inherently inadequate.

7 You will probably fail most of the memory tests in the following chapter.

Points 1, 2 and 7 will be dealt with through the remainder of the book. You will see that it is possible, with appropriate knowledge, to pass all the tests, and that names and phone numbers are easy to remember - if you know how.

Your memory does decline with age, but only if it is not used. Conversely, if it is used, it will continue to improve throughout your lifetime.

There is no evidence to suggest that moderate drinking destroys brain cells. This misapprehension arose because it was found that excessive drinking, and only excessive drinking, did indeed damage the brain.

Across cultural and international boundaries 'negative experience' with memory can be traced not to our being 'only human' or in anyway innately inadequate but to two simple, easily changeable factors: (1) negative mental set and (2) lack of knowledge.

Negative Mental Set

There is a growing and informal international organisation, which I choose to name the 'I've Got an Increasingly Bad Memory Club'. How often do you hear people in animated and enthusiastic conversation saying things like, 'You know, my memory's not nearly as good as it used to be when I was younger; I'm constantly forgetting things.' To which there is an equally enthusiastic reply: 'Yes, I know exactly what you mean; the same thing's happening to me.. . .' And off they dodder, arms draped around each other's shoulders, down the hill to mental oblivion. And such conversations often take place between thirty-year-olds!

This negative, dangerous, incorrectmental set is based on lack of proper training, and this book is designed to correct it.

Consider the younger supermemoriser to whom most people romantically refer. Ifyou want to check for yourself, go back to any school at the end of a day, walk into a classroom of a group of five -to seven-year-old children after they have gone home and ask the teacher what has been left in the classroom (i.e., forgotten). You will find the following items: watches, pencils, pens, sweets, money, jackets, physical education equipment, books, coats, glasses, erasers, toys, etc.

The only real difference between the middle-aged executive who has forgotten to phone someone he was supposed to phone and who has left his briefcase at the office, and the seven-year-old child who realises on returning home that he's left at school his watch, his pocket-money and his homework is that the seven-year-old does not collapse into depression, clutching his head and exclaiming, 'Oh, Christ, I'm seven years old and my memory's going!'

Ask yourself, 'What is the number of things I actually remember each day?' Most people estimate somewhere between 100 and 10,000. The answer is in fact in the multiple billions. The human memory is so excellent and runs so smoothly that most people don't even realise that every word they speak and every word they listen to are instantaneously produced for consideration, recalled, recognised precisely and placed in their appropriate context. Nor do they realise that every moment, every perception, every thought, everything that they do throughout the entire day and throughout their lives is a function of their memories. In fact, its ongoing accuracy is almost perfect. The few odd things that we do forget are like odd specks on a gigantic ocean. Ironically, the reason why we notice so dramatically the errors that we make is that they are so rare.

There is now increasing evidence that our memories may not only be far better than we ever thought but may in fact be perfect. Consider the following arguments for this case:

1 Dreams

Many people have vivid dreams of acquaintances, friends, family and lovers of whom they have not thought for as many as twenty to forty years. In their dreams, however, the images areperfectly clear, all colours and details being exactly as they were in real life. This confirms that somewhere in the brain there is a vast store of perfect images and associations that does not change with time and that, with the right trigger, can be recalled. In chapter 26 you will learn about Catching Your Dreams.

2 Surprise Random Recall

Practically everyone has had the experience of turning a corner and suddenly recalling people or events from previous times in his life. This often happens when people revisit their first school. A single smell, touch, sight or sound can bring back a flood of experiences thought to be forgotten. This ability of any given sense to reproduce perfect memory images indicates that if there were more correct 'trigger situations' much more would and could be recollected. We know from such experiences that the brain has retained the information.

3 The Russian 'S'

In the early part of this century a young Russian journalist (in The Mind of a Mnemonist, by A. R. Luria, he is referred to as 'S') attended an editorial meeting, and it was noted to the consternation of others that he was not taking notes. When pressed to explain, he became confused; to everyone's amazement, it became apparent that he really did not understand why anyone should ever take notes. The explanation that he gave for not taking notes himselfwas that he could remember what the editor was saying, so what was the point? Upon being challenged, 'S' reproduced the entire speech, word for word, sentence for sentence, and inflection for inflection.

For the next thirty years he was to be tested and examined by Alexander Luria, Russia's leading psychologist and expert on memory. Luria confirmed that 'S' was in no way abnormal but that his memory was indeed perfect. Luria also stated that at a very young age 'S' had 'stumbled upon' the basic mnemonic principles (see pages 39ff.) and that they had become part of his natural functioning.

'S' was not unique. The history of education, medicine and i3

psychology is dotted with similar cases of perfect memorisers. In every instance, their brains were found to be normal, and in every instance they had, as young children, 'discovered' the basic principles of their memory's function.

4 Professor Rosensweig's Experiments

Professor Mark Rosensweig, a Californian psychologist and neurophysiologist, spent years studying the individual brain cell and its capacity for storage. As early as 1974 he stated that if we fed in ten new items of information every second for an entire lifetime to any normal human brain that brain would be considerably less than half full. He emphasised that memory problems have nothing to do with the capacity of the brain but rather with the self-management of that apparently limitless capacity.

5 Professor Penfield s Experiments

Professor Wilder Penfield of Canada came across his discovery of the capacity of human memory by mistake. He was stimulating individual brain cells with tiny electrodes for the purpose of locating areas of the brain that were the cause of patients' epilepsy.

To his amazement he found that when he stimulated certain individual brain cells, his patients were suddenly recalling experiences from their past. The patients emphasised that it was not simple memory, but that they actually were reliving the entire experience, including smells, noises, colours, movement, tastes. These experiences ranged from a few hours before the experimental session to as much as forty years earlier.

Penfield suggested that hidden within each brain cell or cluster of brain cells lies a perfect store of every event of our past and that ifwe could find the right stimulus we could replay the entire film.

6 The Potential Pattern-MakingAbility of Your Brain Professor Pyotr Anokhin, the famous Pavlov's brightest student, spent his last years investigating the potential pattern-making capabilities of the human brain. His findings were important for memory researchers. It seems that memory is recorded in separate little patterns, or electromagnetic circuits, that are formed by the brain's interconnecting cells.

Anokhin already knew that the brain contained a million million (1,000,000,000,000) brain cells but that even this gigantic number was going to be small in comparison with the number of patterns that those brain cells could make among themselves. Working with advanced electron microscopes and computers, he came up with a staggering number. Anokhin calculated that the number of patterns, or 'degrees of freedom', throughout the brain is, to use his own words, 'so great that writing it would take a line of figures, in normal manuscript characters, more than ten and a half million kilometres in length. With such a number of possibilities, the brain is a keyboard on which hundreds of millions of different melodies can be played.'

Your memory is the music.

7 Near-Death - Type Experiences

Many people have looked up at the surface ripples of a swimming pool from the bottom, knowing that they were going to drown within the next two minutes; or seen the rapidly disappearing ledge of the mountain from which they have just fallen; or felt the oncoming grid of the 10-ton lorry bearing down on them at 60 miles per hour. A common theme runs through the accounts that survivors of such traumas tell. In such moments of 'final consideration' the brain slows all things down to a standstill, expanding a fraction of a second into a lifetime, and reviews the total experience of the individual.

When pressed to admit that what they had really experienced were a few highlights, the individuals concerned insisted that what they had experienced was their entire life, including all things they had completely forgotten until that instant of time. 'My whole life flashed before me' has almost become a cliche that goes with the near-death experience. Such a commonality of experience again argues for a storage capacity of the brain that we have only just begun to tap.

8 Photographic Memory

Photographic, or eidetic, memory is a specific phenomenon in which people can remember, usually for a very short time, perfectly and exactly anything they have seen. This memory usually fades, but it can be so accurate as to enable somebody, after seeing a picture of 1000 randomly sprayed dots on a white sheet, to reproduce them perfectly. This suggests that in addition to the deep, long-term storage capacity, we also have a shorter-term and immediate photographic ability. It is argued that children often have this ability as a natural part of their mental functioning and that we train it away by forcing them to concentrate too much on logic and language and too little on imagination and their other range of mental skills.

9 The 1000 Photographs

In recent experiments people were shown 1000 photographs, one after the other, at a pace of about one photograph per second. The psychologists then mixed 100 photographs with the original 1000, and asked the people to select those they had not seen the first time through. Everyone, regardless of how he described his normal memory, was able to identify almost every photograph he had seen - as well as each one that he had not seen previously. They were not necessarily able to remember the order in which the photographs had been presented, but they could definitely remember the image - an example that confirms the common human experience of being better able to remember a face than the name attached to it. This particular problem is easily dealt with by applying the Memory Techniques.

10 The Memory Techniques

The Memory Techniques, or mnemonics, were a system of 'memory codes' that enabled people to remember perfectly whatever it was they wished to remember. Experiments with these techniques have shown that if a person scores 9 out of 10 when using such a technique, that same person will score 900 out of 1000, 9000 out of 10,000, 900,000 out of 1,000,000 and so on. Similarly, one who scores perfectly out of 10 will score perfectly out of 1,000,000. These techniques help us to delve into that phenomenal storage capacity we have and to pull out whatever it is that we need. The Basic Memory Principles are outlined in chapter 4, and the bulk of this book is devoted to explaining and outlining the most important and useful of these systems, showing how easily they can be learned, and how they can be applied in personal, family, business and community life.

At this early stage, however, it should be helpful for you to test your memory in its current state. The following chapter provides a series of memory tests that will form a foundation from which you can check your progress. If you are interested in the truth about yourself and your performance now, as compared with what it will be when you have completed the book, perform these tests thoroughly. Most people do rather poorly at the beginning and almost perfectly at the end.

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