How I Think and Remember

This is less a post than a musing aimed at soliciting some feedback from all of you out there.

At work, I constantly encounter many who can recall with specificity minute details from documents they haven't seen in months. I don't want to dwell on why - whether they are just focusing in on a smaller number of data points and committing those to memory, or whether they just have out and out better memories than I do. But the question has prompted me to understand better the way I understand and remember information.

I believe I am an "Index" thinker. Like an index, I don't recall all the information about the subject. If you give me a topic, I recall a few subheadings and - more importantly - I know where to find additional information. When people ask if I recall a conversation by email - I don't. But I know that Gmail has it and I know what words and recipients I need to enter in the search box to find it. When someone at works wants a fact, I usually have a sense and need to confirm, but I know where to look. Everyone can do this to some extent, just like I can memorize information by rote to some extent. The difference is that this is my predominant way of thinking.

This type of memory is really useful for grasping large swaths of information. By using my memory for the shortest form of the information - the search string - I can leverage the huge chunks of storage available to me online and the hard drives on my various computers. On the other hand, it is bad for being able to recite any fact by rote on cue.

The next question, of course, is why I developed this type of memory, and whether it is naturally occurring or purely the product of my environment. For example: I have never been good at memorizing things word-for-word. Further, I am not the greatest reader. To learn something from the written word, I really need to be taking notes so there is an element of repetition and analysis. I also learn far better with visual, social, and/or tactile queues. I can learn to sail in half the time I can learn a monologue - and I'll remember how to sail two years hence but forget the...what was that again? Oh, and I have something of a random access memory. If we start talking about a subject, I will quickly "load into memory" a lot of the information related to the topic that was completely inaccessible before. Like turning from the index to the page it references, a lot of the detail comes flooding back. Finding a short-cut to permit me access to the word-for-word information is very convenient.

The other major influence has been my work. I used to do enterprise analytics - which means taking huge volumes of tiny pieces of data, such as individual teller transactions from a bank customer, and aggregating them to the highest level of a company so that someone like a CEO can slice and dice the data to tease out meaningful trends. I also created websites, relying on content from stock-footage websites and design ideas from all over the web. I rarely had what I needed at the start of any given project, but I know where it was and how to get at it. Then, I went to law school, where I learned to use the legal research tools, Lexis and Westlaw, spending a good amount of time as the law student rep to a users board for the latter. Did I go into this field because of the way I thought or do I think this way because I trained myself to do so through my work (and other endeavors)? Hard to tell. Probably a little of both.

My question to you: Have you seen any professional writing on this type of thinking and recall?


AdinaLex said...

Where to start?

Ok, First, Howard gardner has theories of how people learn. We all have "multiple intelligences" meaning different ways to be smart - more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_intelligences (scroll down to "categories" section). We all have some of every category, just better at some, worse at others. Think of a Math genius (Logical) who can't talk to people (interpersonal). We all have different degrees. You can take a test to see in which areas you excel.

Next, tons of research is being done on our brains now. Because of how women's breains a re actually built, we can truly multi-task, men can't, not as many connections between hemispheres (something like that) and therefore men need to generally do one thing at a time.

Finally, you can change your attention to detail to some extent, through practice and challening yourself - there are games and activities where you have to pay attention to detail. Try attempting to count cards when you play a game! it's all about how you use your memory - you get better at things if you work at them.

Look at it this way, better to see the big picture, than to ONLY be able to see details, and not the big picture at all. Many teachers can't understand the world outside their classroom, and therefore stay in the same job for 30 years. Others want to grow, through promotion, and make an impact, and work in a "big picture" type of capacity...

Hope this helps!

AdinaLex said...

By the way, my comment about Brain research was intended to point out that scientists are only now learning how braisn actually work - and that has an actual impact on personality and ability. If you delve into it a tiny bit, you will be amazed. The reason why teenagers make stupid decisions? Their brains are not fully developed - brain doesn't finish growing until about age 20 - for women, can be as young as 18, for some guys as late as 25. (Accounts for maturity and HS girls dating College Boys!!!) Think about what you were doing when you when you were 18, 20, and 25? What was RSC focused on in her life?

Also, you have the ability to remember exactly where to find that info, that accounts for a lot. Knowing where your talents lie, and what you need help with puts you at a HUGE advantage - you are aware of the tools you need to succeed, and how to use them. You are the kind of person who will succeed with an assistant, while you would fail if you were an assistant.

Just something to keep in mind as you embark on new experiences- new baby? You may need to write a list of feeding times, or items to go in the diaper bag...


Cinderella said...

What you are talking about is encoding (storing memory) and retrieval (recalling memory) [yay psych major in me]. There are many ways we can store information or memories, and because of that, it may take different methods to recall. For example, if you store a memory based on a visual, you'd need that visual to recall it. Same with smell, taste, auditory etc.

Many people also store information differently. It sounds like you are a kinesthetic learner (I am too)--just seeing something isn't enough, you need to actively do something to remember it, like writing it down (I used to recopy my notes in HS and college to study).

There is also a difference between short term and long term memory, how we keep things in both areas and how we transfer from one to the other.

Psychological theories of learning and memory are fascinating--I think I may still have some stuff from college, if you are interested.

RAK said...

I have no deep insight but am glad to hear that I'm not the only person who can't remember specific details, but knows that the details are there. (As in, I know there's a law about X--and how to find it--but can't quote law X off the top of my head, even if I refer to it and use it weekly.) You've made me feel a little more competent, so thank you :-)

David said...

Douglas Hofstadter wrote about this in both Godel, Escher, Bach and Metamagical Themas. Neat stuff.

AdinaLex said...

Here is another thought - you know who can quote those things off the tops of their heads? Talmudic scholars, who literally keep learning the same things over and over and over. So by the seventh time they've learned something, they have it memorized, but just in case they start over again, until they die. The 20 year old scholars-in-training, who have only learning it once can't recite the information yet.

You on the other hand, are required to keep learning new things, understand their meaning, What it can be used for, figure out where to store that use in the index in your head, and then move in to the next new thing... If you were given the chance to review the same laws over and over, you too would have that kind of recall. But your job is to keep learning new things, not keep reviewing the old things. Plus, you are new at this job (relatively speaking). I bet when you are 50, you'll have some of that recall from encountering the same things over and over.

Does that put another spin on it?

LuvNmuzic said...

I read Godel Escher Bach! Don't remember much of it though...