What can you remember?

I’ve always had a very good memory. It comes in handy for getting good grades and winning Trivial Pursuit (as long as I’m lucky enough to get easy questions on sports and entertainment). It helps me have a good vocabulary and spell words correctly.

It hasn’t been so reliable lately in helping me remember what I need to buy at the store, unless I take the time to memorize the shopping list the way I would have memorized a list of facts for a test at school. It doesn’t help me find my glasses or my car keys, or remember what I wanted to look up online.

If I put some effort into it, though, it helps me find my car in our company’s very large parking lot. Today I parked in the 11th spot in the row across from truck dock 23. I used to just try to remember the row, until I read that the more detail you associate with something, the better you remember it. So today I remember that when I was eleven, my grandfather died in the hospital, and when I was 23 I worked on the housekeeping staff of a hospital. I also noted that if I write out the digits 1123, I can see three two digit numbers within the string, 11, 12, and 23, and that 11 + 12 = 23.

Lately I’ve been trying to find a way to help my son remember the Boy Scout Law. I tried to come up with a mnemonic for him, but only got as far as The Little Hamster, Feeling Cocky, Kicked Out … and decided to see what I could find that someone else had written. One I found online (once I remembered what it was I was looking for!) was Trevor Led His Friend Courtney King Off Chasing The Brown Clever Rabbit. We’ll see if that helps Al (our deadline is Sunday at the Blue and Gold Banquet when he bridges to Boy Scouts).

In the process of looking for this, I came across a page which asks the question “So what long sequences are taking up space in your brain?” The person who started it lists the 65 Montreal metro systems in geographical order. Why, I ask myself, would someone want to learn that?

Of the sequences mentioned by others who added to the page, I know the books of the Bible and the colors of the rainbow. I’ve never had the slightest inclination to memorize the digits of pi past 3.14159. I know the 50 states of the U.S. but I doubt I could get them in order without writing them down (so I could insert the ones I miss on the first run through). I’ve never memorized the list of presidents of the U.S. let alone the years they served.

Some people added quotes from literature or famous documents. Not “sequences” in the same sense, as words written in context are naturally easier to remember than a set of words or names that are linked only by being part of the same list. I’ve memorized a few poems, though none nearly as long as some quoted on that page, and there are few of those that I once memorized that I can still quote in full.

Someone wrote out Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” As it happens, we’re singing an arrangement of it in Civic Chorale (for our April 1 concert that I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago). That makes it pretty easy to remember – some weeks it runs through my head whether I want it to or not. Though today it’s another poem from Lewis Carroll – also part of our upcoming concert:

“Would you walk a little faster?” said the whiting to the snail.
“There’s a porpoise close behind us and he’s treading on my tail”

The men sing the next line, so I have trouble remembering it, but probably by April 1 I’ll know it as well as I already know the lines from the Father William song – though I see from what someone else wrote out that the musical arrangement only includes some stanzas from that poem.

I notice that a lot of what people have memorized (again, from that web page) is information they had to use in their jobs. How to make a Wendy’s Big Classic, how to make “cool treats” at Dairy Queen, warnings given at the start of amusement park rides, items to check for in a fraud review…

Not that anyone would care, but I still remember customer numbers of the major customers of a company I worked for until 1998. In my current job I have learned the location codes of our fifteen locations (as well as of the five that closed), and which documentation to check for in any of the various kinds of requests that I process. I have learned some of the general ledger account numbers, though not nearly as many as a co-worker who has been here for thirteen years.

That kind of information is useful, and by constant use you pick it up without having to sit down and deliberately memorize it. But I’ve never been inclined to memorize lists of information unless I expect to benefit from the knowledge. Of course, benefiting from it includes getting good grades on tests. Fortunately, I’ve always had a knack of knowing which information was important enough to put the effort into memorizing to get those good grades.

So, what interesting things are taking up space in your brain?


4 Responses to What can you remember?

  1. Margaret says:

    When you parked your car and had to think how to remember 1123, you could have simply thought of the Fibonacci sequence! (first four numbers)

    • Pauline says:

      I did think of the Fibonacci sequence, while I was walking across the parking lot to the office. I just had forgotten about it by the time I wrote my blog post.

  2. Peter L says:

    Let’s see. I can remember all the Presidents in order, as well as most of the years they served. I can also tell you where most of them lived before being president. I know all 50 states and can list them in alphabetical order, but not in order of admittance. I can also remember all the state capitals. Well, most of them.

    Excuse me, but I forget. What we were talking about just now?

  3. Margaret says:

    I can remember a lot of Bible verses that I memorized decades ago. Of course memorizing is a lot easier than consistently putting into practice! I also remember the first few verses of John 1 in Greek from Sally Edwards’ Greek class, also from decades ago. I know that my coworkers observe that I have a good memory. Then anytime I don’t remember something, I get blamed for it because of my good memory; I should have remembered.

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