Memory: linear vs associative



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Posted by: stak
Posted on: 2007-01-09 00:47:06

I find it odd that my memory works differently than most people I know. Most people can remember day-to-day events in a lot of detail; if you were to ask them what they did that day, they could probably describe their actions with a fair amount of detail. It's a lot harder for me to do that sort of thing. I find that stuff filed away in my memory only pops up when triggered by a similar or related action/event.. it just seems more "associative" than most people. On the one hand, this makes it a lot harder to have conversations or tell stories, because those require a "linear" sort of memory. On the other hand, I tend to remember things that are more functionally useful to the situation at hand, which is handy for problem-solving. A mixed bag, as always.

It's interesting to look at this from a historical perspective.. back before paper was invented storytelling used to be the primary means of passing on history. Memory was encoded into stories, or linear narratives. Of course, people still had associative memory, which is pretty essential to survival. (If you happened to run into a bear, would you rather (a) immediately remember to scare it away by standing tall, or (b) remember a story about a guy who faced a bear once, and then seek through it until you found the part where he sca... too late.)

Once we got paper/other forms of permanent storage, the emphasis on storytelling was reduced. It was no longer absolutely required from a survival standpoint, but was still useful (telling stories is a great method of communication in general). The trend seems to have continued - now that we have asynchronous forms of communication (with a time delay between responses, like email), the need for immediate storytelling has diminished even further. For instance, most of my blog entries take a while to write - I go back and edit sentences all the time. I don't have to spew it all out correctly the first time, like I would have to during a face-to-face conversation, so my sub-par linear memory gets the job done.

I'm just glad I didn't live a hundred years ago, or I'd have been b0rked. Then again, it might be more a result of environment than genetics, so maybe not. I do tend to prefer asynchronous communication in a lot of cases, so maybe my brain has automatically adapted away from a more linear memory. It's hard to distinguish cause from effect.

I'm curious as to how other people remember things.. more linear? or more associative? or some other method?

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