A few thoughts about memory

I wrote most of this a while ago, but figured it was worth finishing off and posting here for prosperity.

I have often been told that I have an unusually good memory. I can vividly remember things from very early childhood, and have often been able to conjure up obscure and accurate facts about quite trivial things. I know the full name of every member of my family (over 100 people) and who is related to who, and I know what month and year every member of my team started. And yet I can’t remember my own phone number, or the door code to get into my office, or what I had for lunch yesterday.

These are the sort of things that fascinate me, and I have tried to work out what sort of things I am likely to remember and what I am likely to forget.

I think I am very good at remembering things that interest me, or that involve people who interest me. I know exactly which CDs I own (or have ever owned), the name of every movie I’ve watched, and probably the name of most books I’ve ever read. Which makes sense to me because these things interest me. I also replay conversations in my head over and over again, and the more I like someone the more I will do that. And as a result I memorise the conversations and the facts contained within them quite easily (I also always hear conversations even when they were originally written, and for each person I imagine where we are talking, which is almost always a real place).

As an aside, I realised whilst writing this that it doesn’t matter how important the person was to me at the time the conversation took place, it is based on how important they are to me now. This suggests that I subconsciously store things anyway, and can later recall them when someone’s role in my life changes, and that I can also forget things if people become less important (which I think might be a useful survival mechanism).

As for things I forget. They are usually numbers, things that do not follow a pattern, and anything that I don’t find particularly interesting. I am very bad at remembering birthdays and anniversaries (apart from really important ones), and I am getting worse at remembering conversations unless I really like the person I am talking to. I sometimes wonder if I am more forgetful because I’m older, or because I have more to remember, or because memory is finite. I used to equate my memory to a smarties tube full of pennies – to get another penny in to the front one had to fall out of the back, but now I think it is not quite that simple.