Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Thinking Silly

Something that few people know, and even fewer understand, is that memory is a creative act.

I will be creating two new games in the Training Regimen section of the blog specifically relating to mnemonics and how one can better practice this particular facet of Holmes' character, but for now, let's discuss what, for me, is the most fun facet of memory, and perhaps the Holmesian arts as a whole.

I find, as a general rule, that images and sensory experiences that induce noticeable physiological responses are the ones that your brain will most easily hold onto (increased heart rate, laughter, eyes tearing up). But why is that?

Your brain evolved over the course of human history to do one thing - keep you alive. In order to do that, it came up with some neat shortcuts. Your long term, association-based memory is one of those shortcuts. Your brain is the most powerful computer in the universe, but why should it have to recalculate the optimal decisions for every situation? Why not use some of that hardware for storing useful information for later?

Fine. But how does it know what to store? How does it know what's important?

Actually, the answer to that one is pretty easy - whatever keeps you alive - things that keep you safe, fed, and able to make lots of little versions of you in the future.

As such, your brain latches onto some very specific categories of things. You have a built-in GPS so that you can remember where your cave is, where you found those delicious berries yesterday, where you saw that bear so you can keep your distance. You have great face memory, an analog Friends List that helps you to know in a moment when you are in the presence of a threat or an ally. Things that are funny, sexy, and scary all stick in your brain amazingly well because they are all things that your brain already decided were important for one reason or another.

The most under-utilized of the above is humor. It's really easy to think of things that scare you, but it's usually quite difficult to take those things and remove them from the scary situation they belong in. It's a little easier for sexy images, but they tend to suffer a similar problem - they seem weird and out of place once you remove the context.

That's when we begin to notice the evolutionary hack that is humor. Things look silly when they are out of place, in locations and situations they weren't before. A duck isn't particularly funny until you give him a shirt and hat and call him Donald. Neither is a cat chasing a mouse... until the mouse hands the cat a stick of dynamite and flies off in a paper airplane he made himself. It's very easy to think up silly things - just think of a perfectly normal thing and change it until it doesn't quite fit anymore.

That, before anything else, is the most important trait you bring to the art of memory. Sure, you have the ability to recognize silliness. But even more importantly, you can make it. You can generate new silly things just by thinking about them and put them wherever you want in that built-in GPS of yours.

The best memory technique is one that comes naturally. If it still feels like a device, there's still room for improvement. It has to come organically and naturally, and the most organic way I've ever found is being silly.

Reader Challenge:

Next time you're out and about, meet some new people. Take their name and do something silly with it. Maybe smash that together with a silly thing you see in their face, or how they smell, or the shirt they are wearing, etc.

See how much better it sticks in your head when you're thinking silly.

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