July 24, 2008

Amazing Jimazing Memory

Posted in I wonder at 9:44 pm by jimazing

brokenbrain.gifToday on my way to lunch, I was carrying on a conversation with my friend, Will.  We opened a door to a small elevator waiting area where I saw someone who I had hadn’t seen for a few years.  We had a casual work relationship with a few years ago, so I wouldn’t say I ever knew him well.  Without missing a single beat, I said, “Hey, Drew.  It’s been a long time. How are you doing…” [insert 5 seconds of small talk here].  How did I know his name so quickly?  I marvel at the way my brain works so very efficiently sometimes.

I heard a podcast recently in which the speaker was describing how memory and creativity work.  In his comparison, he said that storing information in memory was like finding items and putting them on shelves.  Creativity happens when someone takes two or more items and sees something new in common between them.  In other words, no one really creates anything completely from scratch.  I digress.

Right after seeing Drew and remembering his name, I imagined the process my brain went through to pull off this amazing feat…  A few years ago, when I met Drew, I stored his name on a shelf somewhere in one of the great empty rooms that is my brain.  For a while I visited it regularly as I would see him in the hall and need to use his name.  Then I didn’t see Drew for a long time.  His name grew dustier as I forgot about it.  After all, I wasn’t using it.  When I stepped into the elevator lobby, instantly flashing lights went off inside my mind.  Sirens started screaming and the memory-librarians in my brain went rushing faster than the six million dollar man to get that name to the front of my mind.  Somehow they dusted it off and had it there fresh and solid right when and where I needed it.  To me on the outside, it was as if I had just been talking to him or about him.  Unbelievable!

A little later, while we were sitting down to lunch, Jeff walked up to me and said hello.  Now I don’t know Jeff very well.  He’s in a church men’s group that meets at the same time and place that my men’s group meets, but we haven’t spent a lot of time together.  I’m guessing that it has been four to six weeks since I last saw Jeff.  I looked up, shook his hand and said, “Hey Ken.” (Wrong name!)  Ken is another guy in Jeff’s group.  Ken and Jeff don’t even look much alike at all.  Why didn’t it work right that time.  I  said something silly to mask my mild embarrasment and went on with my lunch.  No big deal, right?  Why did my memory work so efficiently for Drew and so close but not quite for Jeff?  Who knows.  I still think it is fascinating.

Reminds me of a joke…

An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house. After dinner, the wives went into the kitchen and the gentlemen went into the parlor to smoke a cigar and talk.  One of them said to the other, “Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great. The food was scrumptious and the service was impecable.  I would recommend it very highly.”

The other man said, “It sounds great!  I would like to take my wife there sometime.  What is the name of the restaurant?”

The first man thought for a moment and thought some more… Finally he asked his friend, “What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know… The one that’s red and has thorns.”

Do you mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” replied the man. He then turned towards the kitchen and yelled, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”

 I can relate to the poor old guy.


  1. Thanks for some thoughtful information and a nice laugh…I needed it.

  2. erin said,


  3. jimazing said,

    Erin – I’ve heard that is a good movie. Curt said he thought I’d like it. Have you seen it yet? Maybe when you come for Xmas we could rent it. 🙂

  4. ded said,

    Also interesting is that two brains will not handle the storage/retrieval process identically.

    I can almost never remember the first name of people who were in my life for a brief period (like students for a year of classes)after a even a year’s time of none usage. I can often bring up a last name, but even that usually requires some time thinking…which is not available while facing them. If I engage in a brief conversation, I can usually call the name by the end of the conversation.

    The complexities and nuances of our diverse experiences is as amazing to me as the wonders of this body we inhabit.

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