Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food. -- Austin O'Malley
I have an erratic memory. On second thought, erratic is the wrong word; I have a very selective memory. My problem is that I don't get to select what I remember.
If I'm asked to pick up three things from the store on the way home, I'm lucky to remember to stop at the store. If I do stop, I won't be able to recall at least one of the items. If I borrow an item, I'll place it next to the door so that I'll remember to return it; it will still be there a month later. I don't recall what I had for lunch yesterday, nor the name of the movie I saw last week. If you introduce yourself to me, it's guaranteed that I'll forget your name within 30 seconds.
On the other hand, I will remember your face forever. I retain almost every joke I ever hear. My recall of useless trivia is near legendary. Van Gogh cut off his left ear (he was right-handed). Neville Chamberlain was the British prime minister whose policy of appeasing Hitler was supposed to ensure "peace in our time". There are 63 known moons orbiting Jupiter.
I can tell you immediately that the first 12 digits of pi are 3.14159265359. The first 12 digits of the natural log e? Why, it's 2.71828182845. Avogadro's number is 6.0221415 x 1023. And, of course, the speed of light is 186,282.397 miles/second. Doesn't everyone know these constants off the top of their head?
I recently watched an episode of "The Human Mind" on the Science Channel in which the 2003 World Memory Champion (yes, there apparently is such a contest) was featured.
Of course, I can't recall his name.
The man was given 10 shuffled decks of cards which he memorized in order. He was then asked to name the 103rd card...the 17th card... the 484th card, etc. He correctly named the card every time! In fact, he then named all 520 cards in sequence!
How did he do it? He used what was termed a "location" technique. He lives in London and before demonstrations, he takes a ritualized walk through the city -- always the same path, visiting the same sites. As he examined the decks of cards, he married the sequence of cards into his memorized walk. In addition, he uses imagery for each card; the two of clubs becomes a teddy bear, a 10 of diamonds becomes a saw. So, if those were the first two cards and he began his walk at Big Ben, he would visualize a teddy bear with a saw at Big Ben.
I was discussing this technique with my business partner and he mentioned that in the Hannibal Lecter series of books, Lecter describes his "memory mansion" which he decorates with treasured memories -- another location technique.
In the same episode, an Oxford University study was profiled in which grade school children were given a daily pill for several months. Most of the students experienced a marked increase in their academic abilities, concentration, imagination, and memory. What was the magic pill? An Omega-3 supplement.
So, if you meet me in the near future and feel that I'm eyeing you in an odd manner, it's probably because I'm picturing you as an octopus at Starbucks. And that smell? It's because I've overdosed on Omega-3 laden fish oil.
If you're trying to remember a happy memory, don't think back to a time when you were ALSO thinking of a happy memory, because man, how long does this go on?! --Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts