Monday, 3 March 2014

A Maze of Memories

So I do a lot of shows. And in doing these shows, I have gained something of a reputation for always knowing all the music and all my lines by about the first rehearsal. This is something of an exaggeration, though I do tend to learn my stuff pretty quickly, and then I don't tend to forget it, so if I do the same show again within a couple of years or so, I'll probably still remember most of it.

But that's not particularly interesting as far as I'm concerned. It's useful, sure, but what I actually find interesting is the point which occurred to me when I was thinking about this after a couple of people had been going on about how I knew everything perfectly so quickly (And I was feeling slightly embarassed by how much they were going on about it, so I was kind of looking for a way to downplay my abilities in this regard).
The point which occurred to me is that contrary to what people might expect, I don't learn all this stuff by really focusing on it, going oveer it a bunch to deliberately memorise it quickly. I mostly learn it by accident - and in fact, in the past, when I was less used to it, I would genuinely surprise myself by reciting things word for word which I hadn't realised I'd memorised. For example the famous soliloquy from Shakespeare's Hamlet - I studied the play for A-level English Lit, and at some point the words "To be, or not to be" came up in a conversation, as they do, that being the bit people remember; and to my surprise, I proceeded to recite almost the entire thing from memory. I then deliberately memorised the last couple of lines which had eluded me, but the majority of it just went into my head in the few times I'd read it for school. I also vaguely recall a conversation wherein on being given the first line of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I was able to recite about half a page before running out of steam.

Stuff just goes into my memory without me realising. It's like my memory is a hotel, but things never check in, they just go straight to their rooms, and only fill in the paperwork if I chase them down about it. I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, but it made me think of another point about my memory which actually is sort of illustrated by the means by which I've just randomly arrived at it. My memory is a bit like Wikipedia without a search bar - you know, where you start at one article, click on something interesting linked from it, then something interesting linked from that, and so on until you're somewhere apparently completely unrelated? I can do that sometimes. But there's no helpful index. So sometimes I'll be able to recall random esoteric details of things because someone brought up a related point and I could click the hypothetical link in my brain. But if you just asked me about those details, I wouldn't necessarily be able to give them to you because I don't know what page they're on and there isn't an effective search function. The example I always give for this is that I distinctly remember having a conversation with a friend on some subject, and repeating to him possibly word for word something he had said on the same subject two years previously. But I wouldn't be able to just recall at any random moment what it was he said all those years ago. It only came to mind then because we were having a conversation about the subject in question or a related one. And if we were to have that conversation again, I wouldn't be at all surprised if I still remembered it. However I can't remember it now, because I don't remember what the conversation was about, so I don't have the link, as it were.

So yeah. My memory and means of learning things is kind of weird, but impressively effective a lot of the time. Maybe I should try to go the whole hog and get myself a mind-palace. Although that would then require me to circumvent my usual habit of just absorbing information incidentally. On the other hand, given I apparently memorise things really well without trying, maybe if I did try I'd have like the most amazing memory ever or something.

Anyway, ironically given I originally started thinking about this in trying to find a way to downplay my ability at memorising things, it has turned into a lot of somewhat boasty words about me, so maybe I should stop before I inflate my head too much.

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