How memory is related to storytelling and imagination, not intelligence.
| Are We Hardwired to be Storytellers?
October 15, 2019
Written by JESSICA KENLEY
I watched an interesting documentary recently on Netflix called, "The Mind Explained," and there were amazing cases of people who could read a story over thirty pages long and remember the text verbatim, and others who could do the same with hundreds of randomly chosen numbers. When a World Champion in memory competitions explained how she remembered and could recite these things so precisely, she said that she assigned each number a letter value, and made up an interesting story that correlated with the number sequences. The actual story was ridiculous and gross and fantastical, but it helped her remember those hundreds of numbers, which was incredible to me.
I saw a Ted talk called, "Feats of Memory That Anyone Can Do," that was similar a few years ago, where a science journalist, Joshua Foer, conducted a year-long study on how the brain works and memory. As a nice ending to this body of work, he decided to enter into a memory contest in New York City, and actually ended up winning it! The World Champion was memorizing up to 38 decks of shuffled cards in ridiculously small amounts of time. Mr. Foer found that these great memorizers weren't actually smarter than the average person either, and they weren't savants. They were people who had trained their brains using tricks that Roman poets like Cicero used to use over 2,000 years ago. Obviously, this was before discussions about the hippocampus and the temporal lobe. This same technique had also allowed Mr. Foer to memorize his Ted speech, in fact. He made up a story in his head that included a scantily clad Britney Spears, Cookie Monster riding a horse, and a naked bicycle riding contest that all correlated to the topics he wanted to speak about. It turns out that the more bizarre the story is that reminds you of what you are needing to remember, the more likely your brain is to retain it.
In the Netflix documentary, they also noted that researchers have been able to fool people with a 70% success rate at convincing study participants that they had rich false memories of committing crimes they had never actually committed. This made me think of the hundreds of convicted rapists and murderers that were exonerated with DNA evidence...how faulty are our memories? Psychology Today says that, "According to a recent article in The New York Times, "False confessions have figured in 24 percent of the approximately 289 convictions reversed by DNA evidence." Is this our faulty memories to blame or the tendency of the police force to badger confessions out of people? Food for thought anyway, however, the article does say that our memories are at the very least, "flexible."
Joshua Foer ended his speech with a comment about how we are outsourcing our memory abilities to our smartphones, Blackberries, and tablets; and said something to the effect that if our lives are made up of memories, we should at least put in the effort to remember them.