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nikipedia's avatar

What does "memory" mean to you?

Asked by nikipedia (27475points) June 5th, 2011

I study memory for a living, so I spend a lot of time measuring memory, analyzing memory, or even sometimes tricking people’s memory. While stuck at work today, I found myself thinking, what does “memory” even mean, anyway? I have a lot of things I could say on the topic, but I would be really interested to hear what people who don’t think about this all day, every day have to say.

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18 Answers

MilkyWay's avatar

To me, a memory is a past experience stored in my brain in the shape of images and sounds.

rebbel's avatar

For me it is something like this, only a bit bigger, with more drawers.
Most drawers have labels that are readable, some less readable, and some have labels that don’t correspondent with the contents.
Some drawers are difficult to open when i want them to, but do open when i didn’t even pay attention to it anymore.
Sometimes i have the first letters of the label in my mind’s eye, but then the whole cabinet seem to move from left to right to up to down…..

SoupDragon's avatar

Memory is, to me, er…it’s on the tip of my tounge. It’s….ah, nope, it’s gone again.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Overclocked, low latency, high density DDR3 RAM.

flutherother's avatar

Memory is how we retain and rerun experiences, those that come directly to us from our senses and those we construct in our thoughts. Memories as someone said, are all we really own. Incidentally, did you ever come across this fascinating case history of an unusual memory Here she is, Jill Price is her name.

nikipedia's avatar

@flutherother, yes, I’m involved with one of the projects studying her memory.

Cruiser's avatar

Memory is the data base in your skull of the things you need to know to get through your day, the things you want to remember from your past, plus the things you would much rather forget. I could replay almost every day of my life since 5 yrs old and a few choice moments prior to that. Memory is a blessing and a curse.

obvek's avatar

Mostly, the accurate recall of facts, events, or details. There is an element of mimicry involved when it’s time to “replay the tape.”

Powerful memories (maybe “nostalgic memories”), though, are more about circumstances in the present triggering emotions and sensations tied to events the past. For example, when I first connected with an old friend from middle school, I immediately felt a surge of feelings and sensations around our interactions as school- and playmates—like instantaneously remembering everything about a particular bike ride in his neighborhood, including the humidity, the weather, the expanses of green grass in the neighborhood and the scary as shit lightning strike that bolted maybe a mile away and broke into dozens of small segments that disappeared over a second or two as candles do when they are burned from both ends. We were scared senseless and at the same time gleeful at tearing ass away from the edge of what constituted danger for kids riding bikes in an modestly well to do neighborhood.

In this case, I feel the event so immediately, I can describe it to you in great (dare I say poetic) detail.

Even nostalgic memory is selective, of course. I cannot recall what happened the day before or the day after. (Or the night or the morning of that day).

flutherother's avatar

@nikipedia That is a most interesting project. And at the opposite extreme is poor Clive Wearing who can’t hold a memory for longer than 10 seconds. I think I am more like him.

King_Pariah's avatar

My memories, my privacy, my most valued treasures that I pray that nothing will take them away from me.

AmWiser's avatar

I think that mind and memory are related and that you can’t have one without the other. Memory is old/new life situations that keep company in your mind. Actually, this question is confusing and I really have no idea what the answer is.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Its the internal narrative of our story. I think we change focus details to keep it consistent with the way we perceive ourselves in the moment of recall.

I am not the same guy I was last week; if I were to recall the same event, I would care about something different in the nature of the event.

In addition, every time we touch a memory, we smudge it with the feelings we were having at the time of access.

wundayatta's avatar

The meaning of memory? As in, what is the significance of memory in my life? Or as in what does memory symbolize? Or as in “how do you think about memory?”

Without memory, I think I would really be nothing. There would be no real consciousness. Of necessity, I’d have to be programmed for automatic responses to every situation. It is only with memory that I can get a sense of continuity and I can bring in knowledge of what happened last time in a similar situation and use that information to make a different decision this time. So memory means me. I don’t exist without memory.

Memory symbolizes a record of the past. I creates this notion that you can recall the past in potentially great and accurate detail. I think memory is a symbol of continuity and certainty. Of course, since memory is notoriously inaccurate, this belief in continuity and certainty is largely a myth. Yet most people believe that memory is accurate and reliable. They make decisions based on the things they remember.

My memory is horrible. Increasingly, I can not recall words. I know there is a word that I want to use in this situation, but I can’t find it in my memory. I have to go to a thesaurus to find it. Memory, for me, is a great source of frustration. I don’t remember my past very well. I forget things within hours or even faster.

All my life I have behaved as a librarian. I need to be able to retrieve information from an external library since my internal library is for shit. I also have many memory objects—things I have collected whereever I go. Oddly, those things seem to be better for my memory than photos. Photos are too specific and if I don’t recall the photo, it just ads to the mystery of my past. I mean, there’s something there, but I don’t recall it, so the pictures might as well be of someone else.

But my memory objects—stones, works of art, letters, etc, spark memories and make me feel like something real is going on in my head, even though I know my memory is more like imagination than any kind of accurate record.

I can’t really sum up what memory means. I know it’s important to me. It is the basis of myself and my consciousness, but it is very inaccurate and unreliable, which means I have to be very skeptical of it, and compensate for it in other ways.

tinyfaery's avatar

Imperfect recall.

ninjacolin's avatar

Oh wow.. seems like there’s a number of answers involved.
If you carve your crush’s name into a tree when you’re 6 and come back years later, the markings will still be there. I would say the tree is “remembering” what you did to it in much the same way that your brain’s neurons and synapses “remember” what you did to them.

Scarring, scouring, shaping, molding.. changes made to your malleable baby brain that persist over time.. these are what memories are.

Lastly, is the matter of access. Your memories are changes to your brain that your conscious self (that is, your present self) has limited access to. Similar to how you may not be able to access the etchings in the tree from when you were 6 until you physically get yourself there in a present moment, you can only physically access so many memories in your brain in the present moment. There is a geo-spacial relationship involved in accessing memories. It’s as if there are cursors that have to electrically navigate the brain to get to a place where they can access certain changes/memories. Sometimes they’re entirely blocked off. Sometimes you have to find the right pathway.

Memories seem to create a vast and irregular landscape for the conscious-self to live in which he often finds himself lost in and unable to freely access the places he wishes to go.

I wish I could phrase this more eloquently.

ucme's avatar

Barbara Streisand?

mattbrowne's avatar

Stronger synaptic connectivity.

thorninmud's avatar

I think of memory as neural archeology. When an archeologist finds an intact piece of pottery, it has its present realty as a ceramic form, of course, but to the archeologist it carries a story about the past. That story is, in a sense, not real. It’s a construct that satisfies our understanding of cause and effect, space and time. The archeologist then imagines a chain of conditions that lead to the present reality of that ceramic form. Were that pottery not intact, but just a minute shard, the imagined past that emerges in the mind of the archeologist would be less vibrant and probably less compelling.

Sensory experience produces chemical and structural artifacts in the brain. They have their present reality as a particular configuration of neural connectivity. I wouldn’t say that that artifact is a memory yet, though. I think the memory emerges when the brain spins a story out of that artifact, explaining how it got there and trying to make it fit with other artifacts. The brain is great at this. It does it when we dream, taking essentially random noise and spinning it into a virtual reality.

Some of those neural artifacts are relatively coherent, and are easily spun into vibrant and compelling stories. Others are more fragmentary, and require more creative interpretation. The stories then go on to produce their own artifacts, which will become the nuclei of future memories.

I guess some brains are more hospitable environments to these artifacts, allowing them to retain their coherence longer. Others, like mine, seem to jostle and weather them to dust at an alarming rate, so that the story-building process of memory has little to go on.

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