As a child my day began with a LARGE glass of milk and five almonds with their skin pealed, that my mother used to put in a bowl of water the previous night. While the milk was for health and energy, the almonds were for increasing the memory. I don’t know how much they helped, but I still offer them to my children in the hope that they do. After all, memory is a precious thing.

No person really knows how much he or she remembers. I once tried to play a game with myself. I closed my eye and tried to recall everything I had ever seen – all the people, all the houses, all the streets, all the objects that I had ever looked at, and all the words and numbers I had ever learned.

There seemed to be no end to the list of things that I could think of, so much so that in the end of it I got bored of the whole thing. But all this left me wondering – how could I remember so much, even the things that happened a long long time ago? How is it possible that their images are still so clear in my mind?

Our brain is like a large filing cabinet with lots and lots of drawers and files. Whatever we see, hear or read, is filed and stored in this large memory bank. Millions and millions of impressions are stored away neatly, much like a library stocks books in its shelves. In fact our brain is the largest and most well-organized filing system in the world.

Whenever we want to recall something, the correct drawer and the correct file opens and whatever it is we want to recall is easily remembered. Till date though, no one has figured out how impressions are filed in the photographic library of our brain .

Unfortunately, sometimes parts of these impressions get lost or destroyed due to an accident or shock. For example, a person who has had a heady injury or a hemorrhage within the skull may lose parts of his memory or even all of it. He may even forget how to speak but he can read and write!

The condition is referred to as amnesia or “memory blindness”. Amnesia can be caused by high tension, pressure or under periods of extreme anxiety. Amnesiacs forget certain associations and cannot recall them even if they are everyday items or people.

Sometimes a severe fright or trauma can cause the brain to block-off certain portions of the memory. Amnesia can be treated by psychologists or psychiatrists. We often see these cases in Hindi movies, where a person loses his memory and in the end recovers fully, usually due to an incident that triggers-off the association, and restores the memory.

Illustration of neural activity
Illustration of neural activity

Old age is another reason why people lose their memory. When it happens in old age it is called senility and it is often referred to as second childhood as these people act and behave as a child as they can no longer recall simple everyday functions.

However, even people with normal memory often forget simple everyday things like phone numbers or names of acquaintances. It is at the tip of the tongue but for that particular instant they are unable to recall it. This happens because they have not paid enough attention to store that information in the correct file and drawer of the brain. Perhaps they did not consider the matter important enough!

Some people can glance at a page of a book and recall every word that is written on it. Is it a miracle? No, you and I could do it either. All we need are a concentration to detail and a desire to slot things in the orderly filing cabinet of the brain. Oh! And the almonds might help too.

648 words | 6 minutes
Readability: Grade 8 (13-14 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: 5ws and h
Tags: #brains, #memory

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