There was a story in the paper yesterday about an experiment done for Alzheimer’s research. The participants make lists, usually of animals or plants. They have a minute to do this. Folks who have shorter lists are more often later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They didn’t publish any examples so I don’t know what they looked like, but I found as played around with this that I’d get a cascade effect. Thinking of cats brought up all the other cats. Lions, tigers, cheetahs etc. Dogs brought up other members of the family. Small furry pets got linked together, in other words gerbils also bring up hamsters and guinea pigs.
I’ve found that when I have a memory of a song or a line of dialog lurking at the back of my mind, letting go and (this is the best description I have) and thinking “sideways” will eventually bring up the rest of the memory. Sorry, that's the best description I have. It's weird.
A favorite old cartoon is Donald in Mathmagic Land. There's a scene where the narrator gets a look at Donald's mental library. The filing cabinets are a mess. After they are straightened out everything is supposed to be ok. But, memory doesn't work like a filing cabinet does it?
There is a great scene in the second Roots miniseries. Alex Haley has finally found the griot (someone who specializes in memorizing the geneology and history of a family line) for the family of his ancestor Kunta Kinte. The griot starts his recitation and Haley realizes that it’s going to be a long recital. He asks if the speaker can’t just jump to the part he needs and is informed that the griot is not a “filing cabinet.” One part of the memorized list triggers another and so on. He’s almost asleep in the tropical heat when the man starts on the part about his ancestor and he nearly misses it.
I’ve found that memory is a funny thing. The oddest thing will bring something up. I was talking to a co-worker yesterday about a song I’d heard. One thing led to another and suddenly the thought of the Mary I was talking to and talking about music brought up the song “Along came Mary.” Believe me, I have not thought about “that” song for years. But, there it was. Big as life, and now that it had popped up, twice as hard to get rid of.
When the date my dad passed away comes up I don’t puddle up. I puddle on his birthday and mom and dads’ anniversary. I think it’s because therewas only one day when he died and there was whole lifetime of birthdays and anniversaries. Anyway it’s my theory and I’m going to stick to it. For now.
I’ve heard it said that if you forget your keys, you’re ok but if you forget what they’re for you’re in trouble. I think it’s because we’re talking about a certain kind of memory. There is no reason to remember what keys are for unless you associate them with something else. The house, car or locker that they open. After all there is nothing obvious about a key that says "I'm only useful if I can open something." I believe that for many memories it’s association that helps us remember. It’s as if the ability to associate is the key and without the key the ability to retrieve memory is lost. The memories are still there, you just can’t “find” them.