What happens during the accessing of memory is not at all dissimilar to a database search – the remembering [memory recall] function wanders around the data in memory using classes and links and pulling together a composite picture based on what we wanted to remember. An alternative way to think of this is the sort of action we use when searching the Internet following hypertext links.
This implies that the remembering function is triggered by a sort of ‘keyword’ or set of keywords or an image, and the remembering function is similar in some cases to the way Google might operate searching to find data that matches the search we are wanting.
What starts the whole process is thus a perception – a thought which simply says ‘find me this ……’
How successful we are at finding things is in very large part dependent on how successful we are at classifying and indexing and organising our information. Or to put it another way how good we are at learning.
Our mental model – our memory - is sectioned off into subject areas, each developed around the themes of our life, so if one year we were interested in the arts, then we might have a large section devoted to everything we learnt then, if the next year it was sport, there would be another section on this – not, incidentally, self-contained, these models are interlinked.
At any point during our wandering around the database of facts and functions we may veer off and – via the index – actually recall a bit from the perceptions log – a really clear replay of an associated ‘clip’.
Remembering something is an automatic function, in that we don’t consciously learn it, it is just there and works for us just as Google may work away in the background trying to find what we want from a keyword entry.
Just like the world wide web, the number of classes, relationships and occurrences of facts, not to mention learnt function could run into the billions upon billions. If we are older, the database will be correspondingly vast – truly vast, though not all of it may be easily accessible. This means that access time may be slowed as the database gets bigger. The more we know, the longer it will inevitably take.
Thus us old ones should not worry when we find we cannot remember things as quickly as the young can. Their memory database is much smaller and easier to get round than ours and the searching will inevitably take less time. Slow recall simply means big database.
Sometimes it helps to let our remembering software get on with it by itself and not try so hard …….
Occasionally the opposite happens and the function of remembering can be both speeded up and become uncontrollable. This sometimes happens when people take drugs – both legal and illegal. The ingestion of drugs sometimes causes the drug taker to go on a totally uncontrolled high speed journey round the links in his database – especially backwards and forwards between the memory keywords and the perceptions.
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