Monday, December 10, 2007

People really don't remember anything or is it just me

I have this problem (not really sure if it is a problem) of not remembering incidents, places, people, conversations etc. I have been like this since I can remember (which is not that much). I don't have any problem in remembering equations, dates, sentences, stories etc. I don't remember the color of the houses I have lived in but I can draw out the layout of the houses I have lived in. Funny isn't it.

People look at me with sympathy when I say I don't remember a lot from my childhood. It is as if I really did not hav a childhood. Not that I don't remember anything at all. I remember specific incidents that had left a big positive or negative impression on my mind. Then I have faint recollections of some disjoint set of events scattered through out my life.

Since this is something that I have to deal with regularly, I have been thinking a lot about this. When you say you remember a person what do you mean? For me, if I close my eyes and try to bring into my mind the picture of somebody, I can't, I really can't. It would just be blank. Now if I try to recollect something that is more regular in geometry like say a red ball. If I hold the ball in my hand and then close my eyes I won't be able to picture the ball, or even the color red for that matter.

This does not mean that I can't remember anything. Suppose I see a set(a small set) of objects and then you introduce another small set of objects which I had not seen earlier I would very easily find out the objects that I had seen initially. This means that when my mind sees the combined set, it is able to pick the ones that it had recorded initially. I would be able to successfully do this experiment with multiple sets of objects and with variations of color or size or geometry.

I can identify all my personal belongings but I wouldn't be able to bring an image of any of them to my mind at will. I remember all my friends and relatives whom I keep in touch with each other but I can't bring an image of them to my mind if I don't see them or their picture in front of me. It is as if I don't have the APIs for internal display of the stored images in my memory.

Or maybe I got this all wrong. It is not just me but that this applies for all people. When people say they remember stuff they might just be stating the fact that they will be able to identify the person or object when they see the person or object again.


  1. I guess 'remember' as in being able to visualise as you have explained is not what 'People'(atleast I) generally mean when they say remember. It would more about recollecting part/whole of an incident,some/whole of the attributes of a person/, some or whole of the feelings evoked in you in a situation in the past , and many such. When I say that I remember my father telling me stories at bedtime when I was kid , I just mean that I can recollect some of such incidents and some of the conversations involved - and not necessarily that I can visualise the incident. : )

  2. so what does somebody mean when they say that they remember somebody? Is it the description of the person? Probably not. Right. I can describe a red ball in as much as two or three sentences. But what about a person. Now what about incidences? When people remember incidences - is it just the descriptions of the events that they remember. If that is the case then you can induce incorrect recollection by suggestion, Can't you?
    Probably it is like pattern recognition and memory is like a stored mask. On seeing the object again or when triggered with the right stimulus your mask processes the visual or non-visual stimulus to create a feeling of recollection of the object/incident.

  3. It is not always a person or object or a physical entity people keep in their memory. There are incidents and there are feelings that connect to the incidents.
    And again it neednt be significant incidents. I for one, remember the nothing-important-about-them normal days more than others.

    About images and identifying them... I can tell you its not the case with everyone as you have described, cause I have an image when I close my mind and think about a person or an incident. I dont know the rules of recording these images. For eg, when I think of my best friend, its her 10-year old face that still comes to my mind.

    Some things are just etched in your mind, no one directs it to be that way.

  4. @cris - Yes I understand the feelings and emotions part of memories. When I hear some songs I feel some particular emotion which I can't describe but which will reoccur the next time I hear the song. Here I am not actually perceiving anything consciously, rather the emotion is triggered outside of my consciousness and the emotion is perceived by my consciousness.
    I still am not clear about the images part. But it is interesting to note that you remember the persons face as it was when she was 10. Very interesting. Do you have a photo of her at 10 that you have frequent access to?

  5. No I dont :-D
    Infact most of her pics I have with me are post-school days!
    Strange I know, but thats why childhood is always special.

  6. I was trying to see if your memory was biased by any additional inputs like photos. I guess it might have been special for me too but I will never know :)

  7. i wanted to follow up and see how things are now for you, i have this same problem these days and its miserable. everyone has stories to tell while I sit and listen.Though I have experienced many things I can't seem to remember much, and it is not near as vividly as other seem to describe.

  8. After hopelessly and fruitlessly searching for years, this is an exact description of what I experience. Is something wrong with our brains? Why don't we have vivid and complete recall ( even if flawed ) like some other people? I completely relate to the sitting in silence comment; I do that too in groups-not because I don't want to talk but because I can't call up relatable experiences to share. I feel like when I try to talk about things like that I am being insincere somehow because I don't have fully rounded pictures or feelings associated with things from as little as even a day ago.