Memory is not to be trusted. It is unpredictable, frustratingly fleeting, and only gets worse with age. It will forever cling tightly to useless facts and yet misplace the freshest, most essential ones. I can remember my childhood phone number, the tune and lyrics to Let It Be, and most of the Gettysburg Address, and yet I can’t seem to recall the office computer password I reset last week. I doubt that I am alone in this.
Memory is such a crucial element of our very existence, so why are we so poor at remembering things? We should have plenty of storage space; anywhere you search you will find that the human brain contains 100 billion neurons, although when pressed on this number, scientists can’t seem to remember where it came from.
It is tempting to believe that this memory-fail has a lot to do with the flood of information coming our way, making it increasingly difficult to find a suitable clearing in that vast forest of brain cells. But this is a problem that pre-dates the flood; the challenge of recollection is as old as recorded history. <continue reading>