Can Remembering Be Programmed?

Something peculiar happened today; I forgot to put clean socks in my gym bag again. While that may not seem odd in and of itself, what I found peculiar was rather my reaction upon discovering this.

As I unpacked my gym bag and set about changing, half-distracted, I found myself wondering how I could make sure I wouldn’t forget the socks the third day running. Almost unconsciously I found myself thinking about how I’d have to wear my shoes home without socks, and then I was picturing my feet as I removed my shoes at the door. Without realizing what I was doing I found myself thinking (more or less wordlessly of course) “when I see my bare feet, I’ll remember to go put clean socks in my gym bag right away.” Yesterday, when I got home, as I took off my shoes, I remembered having forgotten the socks, but it didn’t occur to me to put a clean pair in the bag right away, and I forgot again this morning.

No sooner had that thought formed than I had the sensation of having programmed a reminder in my brain, like a posthypnotic suggestion I made to myself without having consciously thought about it.

The moment I became aware of what I was thinking I wondered if it might be a rare glimpse into understanding how we naturally remember things. Here I’m not talking about memories that come unbidden; I mean things that we want to remember at a future point in time. I wonder if this experience was a clue, or was it just an acquired habit that comes from using technology? I don’t recall having felt this sensation before.

In any case, I’ll never know if it actually worked because I wrote most of this post on the metro on the way home. By the time I arrived and could take off my shoes, I could hardly think of anything other than putting a pair of clean socks in my gym bag.

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2 Responses to Can Remembering Be Programmed?

  1. Ric Day says:

    I think associations (like going home not wearing socks) are definitely a key to memory. I left my cellphone at home today and it bothered me all day. To remind myself, I put something bulky in the pocket normally reserved for the phone. After a long drive home in the dark, in heavy ran and traffic, the moment I removed my jacket the over-full pocket triggered the memory to get the phone.

    I’ve used associations to learn languages (seven so far). Example: I or me in Cantonese is spoken as “ngoh” and it sounded to me like the “ng” of “morning” and “or” run together “morniNGOR” and that is how I remembered it.

    I think associations help us imprint things more thoroughly in our memory, so they gain a fair degree of permanence. Without that, memories are pretty transient.

    • laura says:

      I like your example of using a physical reminder. In its simplest form that would be leaving a note. Yours is somewhere in between. In my case, the reminder was entirely virtual but associated with a situation in the physical world.

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