Memory U3A

Today I am going to give a talk on memory and the human brain, on ways to improve memory and also on memory problems
To this end I am first going to do a small trial with all of you. The object is to demonstrate some of the techniques we will talk about later, not to get them all right.

I have a list of 11 numbers to look at for a very short period that you can scan briefly and try to recall some later.
Next though is much easier, 5 letters EJOTY,   good we will try them again in 10 minutes

Now we move onto the substance of our talk.
What is memory. A little Frank Sinatra explained it all ……..
Memory is the recollection of past events and emotions in the present. I include emotions as they are very important and often missed in texts on the subject.
Memory and time are intimately entwined. One does not exist without the other. Memory is taking a time machine into your past and bringing the event or emotion back to the present.
Rene Descartes said “I think therefore I am” but he forgot the codicil, “I have memory, therefore I think.”


Human memory is not a stand alone, it does not just happen. It needs a brain, sensory organs, surroundings and people. When these exist a set of steps, some complementary or overlapping occur. It needs ISPR – Input, Storage, Processing and Recall, one could remember this with a ** Mnemonic “Is some Porridge ready?” *Charlie
Memory needs *Cognition, it is not good enough to talk about memory on it’s own.

Input works on special sensory cells throughout the body, These interface with neurons in the organ or nearby ganglions which interface with other neurons in the spinal cord to take the messages to the cerebral cortex and midbrain. These areas communicate in the brain with the other active sensory neurons.

*During this talk I will add in comments on memory training and enhancement.
Input is something that we have improved. Due to technology we are  able to see in higher and lower frequencies of sound and light. Due to writing and then electronic communication we are able to access more data and more relevant data. We are able to travel further both physically and mentally to explore the boundaries of our world. The more we are exposed to, the more memory we have.

Storage is still a mystery. Computers are easy, The single stream of binary data comes in and is multiplied in yes/no steps. The human brain though takes streams of data in bites which are the sensitivity and number of the receptor cells and the length of time it takes to get through to the brain and processing centres. This is not occurring simultaneously but in overlapping waves of activity. The way to imagine this biological brain functioning is that at each millisecond it is building up a neural 3D snapshot which is the initial storage. Then overlaying and comparing it to the subsequent images to build up over time a 3D internal world which it orientates itself inside.The more important areas build themselves up with time. The primary types of encoding are visual, acoustic and semantic.

** This storage stage includes LTM and STM. Phonetic and numerical STM storage is best in chunking small bits of information, like phone numbers into groups of 3 or  4,

Processing is the art of storing links to the now accumulating 3D images in sites that are able to use the data meaningfully and enable recall when needed. This activity takes place in the midbrain and midline structures like the thalamus and hippocampus as well as  the motor areas and cerebellum for movement and posture. The cerebral cortex also plays a processing role as well as a storage role as shown in certain cortical areas like Broca’s area for speech. Processing allows the construction of consciousness as it  builds up both the 3d person and the local 3D Room plus the wider 3D world beyond. [3 layer structure].

* During this talk I will add in comments on memory training and enhancement.
The only comment here is that the 3d processing structure and the room concept lends a lot of power to the room linkage techniques discussed later.

Recall or retrieval … is the process of bringing out the stored memories. It needs a thinking process called consciousness to do this. Consciousness can only develop after memory has been set down and is a by product of the very processes that store the memory. Using the central part which has set up the processing and is responsive to it develops an identity. This identity can now remember not only danger and response but also it can recall that it is responding and study itself [realisation] thus becoming self aware. It is thus able to set in motion actions including memory retrieval and walking.

*Recall can be aided by many small external tweaks directed to the memory process. Linkage is very important as is activation of any and every sense that we can avail ourselves of including the imagination.

Cognition is the process of thinking , of being self aware, of being conscious; It is basically the 6th sense. Each earlier sense developed by accident egged on by evolution. They reacted to the environment around them. This then resulted in a sensory organ which could learn and anticipate trouble. In effect it is a sense which lets us affect the future. In effect it is a time machine into the future instead of the past.


I have left out the brain from this talk. I can give you references which do it no justice at all. The machinery is so complex, the interactions and wiring so subtle and widespread. The histology so detailed that it is wrong to give a picture and say this bit of memory occurs here. Phrenology told what a persons mind was made of from the shape of his skull. Any interpretation of the brains innards have almost the same reliability. Thinking occurs all over the brain. Memory is stored all over the brain.

Types of memory.
There are two basic types, Short Term Memory STM [includes ultra-short term sensory memory, and slightly longer working memory and Long Term Memory LTM but there is no difference other than the length of time a memory is useful for and retained.
The brain has conscious and unconscious memory processes . Unconscious memory is the bulk of the work the brain does. Breathing, Heart rate, Respiration, Digestion, Movement  and Sleeping. The mere act of standing upright balanced, let alone walking, uses up more neurons and brain structures than any thinking about memory or what to have for lunch today. It is said that the brain only uses 10% of its capacity. This is not true, it is chugging along at a very healthy rate all day and does a bit of recuperating at night. We are so important that it switches us off for 8 hours and does not lose a beat.

Short term memory is the immediate input and response in both processes. Short working memory only lasts a few seconds and is discarded quickly as  not important on the long term. The slightly longer working memory lasts up to 40 seconds.This is where the importance of the information is not yet decided or is only needed for a short time . If not recognised as important it too is discarded. To implant a message as LTM that is not LTM  needs repetition for at least 8 seconds in STM enhances the chance of retaining it.

LTM is the storage of memory that is rated as important by the brain and not to be discarded. It has to be recognised as important due to being new, different [hence untagged, emotional [dangerous, exciting], or related to known important LTM [consolidation]. These memories often store significant events or interactions in one’s life both on a personal or a more community  nature. Winning a race or a prize at school, tipping over a boat, a car accident are just some examples. Our life history is made up of all these memories. They are what we have come from. It can be
Explicit memory (or declarative memory) refers to all memories that are consciously available.
It is composed of
Episodic memory refers to memory for specific events in time
Semantic memory refers to knowledge about factual information, such as the meaning of words.
Autobiographical memory refers to knowledge about events and personal experiences from an individual’s own life.
Emotional memory, the memory for events that evoke a particularly strong emotion, can involve both declarative and procedural memory processes.
Implicit memory (procedural memory) refers to the use of objects or movements of the body, such as how exactly to use a pencil, drive a car, or ride a bicycle. Procedural memory is considered non-declarative memory or unconscious memory. Emotional memory, the memory for events that evoke a particularly strong emotion, elicit a powerful, unconscious physiological reaction.


Page 5 Tricks of the trade for a better memory.

Simple measures. More sleep, more rest, more alertness and more interest, the old early to bed and early to rise makes us healthy and wise. It also improves our memory. Avoiding overuse of drugs like cigarettes and alcohol, in general.
We need to be interested.
Input is easy. We can add to input by being more attentive, alert, and interested thus increasing the range of data we are exposed to.
Storage  Chunking  chunking small bits of information, like phone numbers into groups of 3 or  4  reduces the memory effort required.
The more inputs at the same time the better the better, writing speaking out loud, visualisation and elaboration activate alternative storage sites which can link with the primary memory making it more important.
The more important we can make the data appear the more it is retained. Repetition  implies importance.
The more associations we can make with the data particularly important data like locations, people and emotions the more retention

another method of improving memory encoding and consolidation is the use of a so-called memory palace (also known as the method of loci), a mnemonic techniques that relies on memorized spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect other memories. The method is to assign objects or facts to different rooms in an imaginary house or palace, so that recall of the facts can be cued by mentally “walking though” the palace until it is found

Medical notes.

Decrease in memory is a necessary part of aging. Aging leads to slowing down of the nerve fibres, delay in neurocrine ending secretions and delayed reaction time.Alertness decreases and physical activity decreases. We lose neurons at a slightly increasing rate and we lose 200,000 a day from birth. Luckily we have an enormous starting point.People do not suddenly become chess champions at 60 and most innovative work is done from the late teens to 40 years of age.
Not to complain. Older people have a life replete with far more experiences than a callow 20 year old. We can still learn and improve the memory we have at any age by application, learning and a little ju jitsu with the memory tricks.

Dementia due to aging is called senile dementia and is affected by poor health, atheroma, strokes, reduced exercise and toxins like alcohol. Lifestyle is important.

Presenile dementia is due to a variety of neurological conditions of which Alzheimers is supreme. It is of variable onset, usually slow progress and can be improved for a while with medication. Currently there is no cure.

The best remedy is to attend science talks at U3A and exercise the brain as well as the body. At least you will feel smarter and how we feel is the most important thing, not what we know





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