Published on January 17th, 2012 | by Thompson0
“To the extent that experience is the sum of our memories and wisdom the sum of experience, having a better memory would mean knowing not only more about the world, but also more about myself.” -Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein
Having lived a life full of tumultuous events and “near-life experiences,” as I like to call them, I have always worked harder attempting to forget than trying to remember, and if Jorge Luis Borges is right and “to think is to forget,” then I’m constantly thinking. I have been told that my memory of events is incredibly uncanny and has been called a gift, but I know it only to be a terrifying curse. I’ve even been able to recall information heard in my mother’s Spanish class while asleep, but when it comes to memorizing useless information like random words and the digits of pi, I’m sure K. Anders Ericsson and his friends at FSU would find my memory to be merely average. Hell, when I land my ass in jail I can’t even remember a phone number to bail me out, but I think that’s mostly because I regard that information as useless, just as the incredible S was able to forget by simply realizing the information he had memorized was completely useless.
While reading Moonwalking with Einstein, a brilliant journalistic approach to the science of memory, I thought about how my memory is organized. The incredible S had a memory like a map, with images placed along streets. I’ve managed to organize my memory like a journal, which is not at all surprising given my interest in journalism. I have rarely kept a journal in my life, though, I’ve tried many times only to quit within weeks. I always feel like there’s no need to store this information externally because I seem to put together a vivid recollection of the events whenever I need to. I have placed the events that have shaped my experience into a hierarchy of importance, with specific headlines for each, like The Importance of First Aid Kits and Sober Drivers, How the Ecstasy Generation Ruined LSD, and Memoirs on Probation. Some were eventually recalled and written for this website with little need for notes or a tape recorder, and others I haven’t written but hold a specific place in the hierarchy of my memory. And since I know that “one cannot say that any event [i]s completely forgotten,” I can recall these events as I see fit, like paging through a newspaper searching for the headline I want to remember, and utilizing all the senses to recall the scene completely.
As I said earlier, my mother is a teacher, and though Plato’s Meno reminds us there are no teachers, I’d have to say despite my occasional nap in her Spanish class she was very engaging. My recollection of the Spanish class I took is slim now, but my mother always said the grade of your final is really just your percentage of recollection. I ended up recalling 88% of that Spanish class, the highest recollection percentage of anyone including her college students. Now I can barely remember 88 Spanish words and my verb conjugation is a complete disaster, but when I attempt to speak with our Argentinian employees at Big Sky, I can actually feel those memories being triggered and Spanish that I thought I forgot becomes available again. I’m confident if I were to spend 2 weeks in a Spanish-speaking country, I could recall most of that information and eventually become fluent in just a few months, which makes my mother a pretty good teacher, or reminder if you prefer.
I thought it ironic that Joshua Foer mentions studies done on baseball fans because that’s one thing I recall with ease. I can not only recall the events of games I attended, but also games I’ve watched on TV. Hell, I can even recall statistics for certain players. For instance, I know Justin Morneau was batting .345 before he had a concussion that ended his season in 2010. I know Delmon Young hit .298, with 112 RBI, and 21 homers in 2010. I know Joe Mauer makes $23 million a year. Why do I recall this information so easily? Well, I find this information useful because when I argue with other baseball fans, it’s good to spit some facts. It’s all about classification and inventing effective triggers, and when it comes to my memory, the sports page is usually the biggest section and is neatly classified with effective images serving as triggers.
It’s interesting how the memory works for us and against us, but if there’s anything I know about my own memory, it’s that I’ll forever be plagued by my experiences, and mostly the negative experiences, which seem easier to remember and of which I recall more specific information, just as Proust’s narrator in Swann’s Way recalls the night his mother didn’t kiss him goodnight with immense detail. Cursed memory will continue to haunt me, and I suppose I’ll end up like Funes, the Memorious – aging quickly and dying young.