The Echoes of the Mind – Memory


Perception, imagination, expectation, anticipation, illusion: all are based on memory. There are hardly any border lines between them. They just merge into each other. All are response of memory. ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Memory is the faculty for retaining and retrieving information. Various types of memory – from personal experiences to symbolic abstractions – are encoded, stored, and later recalled. Memory is the mind’s personal library.

Memory is essential for behavior. There is nothing of significance that is not based fundamentally on memory. Our consciousness and our actions are shaped by our experiences. And, our experiences shape us only because of their lingering consequences. ~ American neurobiologist James McGaugh

Memory isn’t for trying to remember. It’s for doing better the next time. ~ American psychologist Jeff Zacks


Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original; it is a continuing act of creation. ~ American psychologist Rosalind Cartwright

Memories are made from perception, cognition, and intuition. Memories from perception are often autonomic, with emotive impact acting as a decisive factor.

Willful memory creation requires focus. While intention helps, the mind has its own priorities, tucking away information nuggets subconsciously. Even a disciplined mind is beyond the confines of volition when it comes to memory.

Surprise sparks memories for infants. When events contravene expectations, babies investigate and form new mental models.

Infants not only selectively explore objects that violate their expectations but also explore in ways specific to the violation. ~ American cognitive scientist Laura Schulz

The most intensely remembered memories involve emotive stress. During a traumatic event, the body releases 2 associated stress hormones: cortisol and norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine stimulates the fight-or-flight response: spiking when individuals feel threatened or experience intense emotions. Elevated norepinephrine focuses the system on the immediate moment. As norepinephrine abets concentration, it is instrumental in learning. Cortisol ramps blood sugar, providing energy. Cortisol amplifies the effect of norepinephrine in memory formation.

Negative experiences are more readily remembered when an event is traumatic enough to release cortisol after the event, and only if norepinephrine is released during or shortly after the event. ~ American psychologist Sabrina Segal

As an evolutionary survival mechanism, negative memories are more easily formed and deeply ingrained than positive ones. Hence, memories of happy happenings are hazier and more readily fade, while traumas and stressful experience are chiseled in detail.

Contrastingly, babies are more likely to remember something if it resonates with emotional positivity. Reinforcing a desire to live is important during early development.

Positive affect heightens babies’ attention and arousal. ~ American development psychologist Ross Flom

While stress intensifies long-term memory storage, it hampers working memory.

In response to acute, uncontrollable stress, we become distracted and disorganized, and our working memory abilities worsen, leaving prepotent or habitual responses to control our behavior. Yet our memories of the stressful event are actually better than usual. ~ American cognitive scientist Amy Arnsten

Much goes into memory of which we have scant awareness. Conscious and subconscious memory work the same pathways. Other than implicit memory slipping in under the radar of awareness, there is no significant distinction between the two in creating memories.

Our minds process vast amounts of information outside our consciousness, beyond language. ~ David Myers


Memories have been classified by information type and temporal direction. Memories of the past are retrospective. Memories involving the future are prospective.

An episodic memory is autobiographical: of an experienced event, with recall vigor encoded according to the emotional impact at the time. In contrast, a semantic memory is of an abstraction: a cognized meaning, understanding, or other conceptual information. Topographic memory involves spatial orientation: a literal mental map.

A declarative memory is one that is readily spoken of. Episodic, semantic, and topological memories are declarative. Though they may arise involuntarily, declarative memories are subject to conscious recall.

The term declarative is used because such memories can be told to others simply by describing its contents as presented in the mind. This contrasts with procedural memories, described a little later.

A pivotal part of the mind’s tensor system, declarative memories are stored within complex hierarchical networks. There are links between these networks based on relations.

Semantic memory networks are especially intricate, as conceptual meanings are related to words, which comprise units of symbolic representations, both spoken and literary.

Phonemes and syllabaries each have their own network. For example, rhyming based upon the terminal morphemes of words is one network of many related to language.

Though the language library is extensive, it is a fraction of the symbolic database within the mind of an adult. The spoken language network is related to others, such as music. These libraries are the contents for exposition of declarative memory.

A procedural memory is of a learned skill, either physical or entirely mental. Recall is automatic with the intention of performing a task relevant to the procedural memory.

Muscle memory is a physical, procedural memory. Its learning is a matter of practice.

Declarative memory subject to conscious recall is explicit. Procedural memory, and information stored subconsciously, is implicit.

People can be changed by past experiences without having any awareness of those experiences. ~ American psychologist Daniel Schacter et al

An implicit memory become available via priming: a stimulus associated with the memory. Episodic and topological memories are littered with semantic labels, which are attached to recall potential.

Initiating a task that is a learned skill, such as riding a bicycle, primes the necessary procedural memories to accomplish the work.

Priming works in remembering declarative memory fragments that were subconsciously created. It also prompts recall of semantic memories, particularly those in the same modality: encoded with affiliation.

Priming is the awakening of associations. ~ David Myers

People are faster in deciding that a string of letters is a word when the word follows a related one. The word “nurse” is recognized more quickly following “doctor” than “bread.”

Whereas a declarative memory is readily told by stating its contents, such as giving directions from a mental topographical map, a procedural memory requires stepwise extraction into the conscious mind as a prelude to explanation.

Memories of future appointments, intentions, or planned actions are prospective. Recall of prospective memories may be triggered by a specific event or at a certain time.

Beyond being a gyre of tensor networks, the architecture of memory remains speculative. It likely comprises a confluence of entangled schemata, as such arrangement is common in complex organic structures. The idea has been kicked around at least since Kant, who posited transcendental schemata: non-empirical concepts associated with sense impressions. What is known that the mind searches for memories much like animals forage.

A bird’s food tends to be clumped together in a specific patch: for example, on a bush laden with berries. When faced with a memory task, we focus on specific clusters of information and jump between them like a bird between bushes. ~ American psychologist Thomas Hills


From a temporal perspective memory bifurcates into short-term and long-term. What is simply called memory refers to long-term memory: the selective accumulation of life experiences, both from environmental ecology (perception) and cognitive processes (imagination, reason, and intuition). The capacity of human long-term memory is practically unlimited, though the sometime struggle with recall belies that impression. Memories unrecalled fade over time.

Short-term memory differs from long-term in duration and capacity. Short-term memory is of the current situation or task at hand. The instant of attention is working memory.

Rehearsal is process of retaining information in short-term memory by repeating it. Repetition is simply reentry into the evaporating depository which lasts less than a minute. Rehearsal is commonly employed in remembering phone numbers to input.

The best way to learn motor skills is repetition on multiple maneuvers. The skills take longer to learn, but the moves are more securely embedded in long-term memory, as short-term memory proves inadequate, due to contextual interference: the emptying of short-term memory to handle a new situation.

Continually wiping out motor short-term memory helps update long-term memory. ~ French cognitive scientist Nicolas Schweighofer

Repeating a single task does not necessarily engender long-term memory, as short-term memory may cover a single skill.

Working Memory

Working memory is the portion of short-term memory that is the focus of immediate attention. It is brief – a fraction of a second – and its capacity paltry.

One bit of information is the amount of information that we need to make a decision between two equally likely alternatives. ~ George Miller

The most influential psychology article of all time – written in 1956 by American cognitive psychologist George Miller – claimed that working memory can cope with ~7 bits (7±2) of information before confusion sets in. Miller was wrong. 4 bits is the limit of working memory. A 7-digit number is remembered by being parceled into smaller chunks, with no more than 3 numbers per mnemonic lump.

To remember a seven numeral phone number, say 6458937, we need to break it into 4 chunks: 64. 58. 93. 7. Basically, 4 is the limit to our perception. ~ Australian psychiatrist Gordon Parker


The idea of dividing memory duration into short-term and long-term dates at least to William James in 1890. The foregoing explanation follows the now-conventional modal model proposed by American psychologist Richard Atkinson and American cognitive scientist Richard Shiffrin in 1968.

Because the mind stitches memory together into a seamless experience, and teasing them apart experimentally has been somewhat inconclusive, the bifurcation between short-term and long-term memory remains controversial. The organization and mechanics of memory retain mystery.


We see things that are emotionally arousing with greater clarity than those that are more mundane. How vividly we perceive something in the first place predicts how vividly we will remember it later on. ~ American psychologist Rebecca Todd

One reason we don’t retain most details is that, to recall them, they must have captured our attention. Whereas the senses deliver a multitude of details, the mind does not register most of them into the ledger of lasting memory. The disparity between what is experienced and what is remembered is dramatic.

Our deepest memories are mental snapshots taken during times of high emotional impact or involvement. ~ Australian cognitive scientist Louise Faber

Emotionally charged memories can have a startling vividness to them. During recall, the pattern of brain activity evoked is very similar to the initial perception of the experience.

When we mentally replay an episode we’ve experienced, it can feel like we are transported back in time and reliving that moment again. ~ American psychologist Bradley Buchsbaum

Vivid memory rarely fools the mind into mistaking it for the present moment. The similitude is limited, as the senses are not fully engaged.

Processing Paradox Bias

Employing a process termed pattern separation, new experiences are encoded as distinct from already stored episodes. In contrast, retrieving an episodic memory relies upon pattern completion to fill in gaps in detail, increasing overlap with previous memories by reactivating related memory traces.

Such mutually exclusive processing cannot operate simultaneously. Hence, the encoding of episodic memory and its recall can present a processing paradox that is resolved to usefulness at the moment (context utility) without regard for accuracy.

The episodic memory system uses environmental cues to establish processing biases that favor either pattern separation during encoding or pattern completion during retrieval. ~ American psychologist Katherine Duncan et al

This processing bias lingers in time, influencing subsequent mnemonic processing. This is one way that experiences affect future behavior and make memory fallible but useful.

Eyewitness Misinformation

Our memory is built to change, not regurgitate facts, so we are not very reliable witnesses. ~ Donna Jo Bridge

Eyewitnesses asked to identify a suspect in a lineup rely upon remembered facial features which match those presented. This exercise in relative judgment results in choosing anyone in the lineup who looks most like the suspect, even when the suspect is not in the lineup. The use of lineups has been an engine of injustice in the law enforcement system.

Initially recalled details became particularly susceptible to interference from later misinformation. ~ American psychologist Jason Chan

Memory conjunction error occurs when related elements are combined to create a composite that off is the mark from actuality. Having seen the 2 faces on the left, people often claim to remember the face on the right, which combines features of those previously seen.

Because retrieval enhances memory, it seems logical that recalling an event prior to receiving misinformation about it should reduce eyewitness suggestibility. But the inherent paradox in memory processing aids falsification: cued recall exacerbates the ease with which misinformation is incorporated into a memory. This owes to the consolidation process that occurs with memory recall.

People’s later memory of an event can be altered by exposure to misinformation about that event. ~ Jason Chan et al


Memory, of all the powers of the mind, is the most delicate and frail. ~ English playwright Ben Jonson

As an efficient evolutionary mechanism, memory is a sketch of salient features: details that were incidental at the time quickly fade, if they were remembered at all.

Just because we’ve seen something many times doesn’t mean we remember it or even notice it. It might be a good thing not to burden your memory with information that is not relevant to you. ~ American psychologist Alan Castel

Our memories are cluttered with similar events. Their overlap easily creates blurs between episodes.

Recalling a specific episode is influenced by competition from similar or overlapping instances. Discriminating to the intended memory requires identifying something unique within the context of the memory.

We reconstruct our emotional past in a way that’s consistent with the way we currently are emotionally reacting. ~ American psychologist William Hirst

Memory is far from an accurate snapshot. Recall may be unreliable. Even memories of painful events are readily distorted as to what was endured; yet details that may not have been appreciated at the time may be available with attentive mental prodding, being careful not to introduce false memory via suggestion.

Memories aren’t static. Memory can endure for decades yet also can change to maintain relevance. ~ American cognitive scientist Donna Jo Bridge

The bases for empirical memories are perceptions that occurred at the time of an event. These include mind perceptions and other subjective interpretations which may be the most important takeaway for a person involved, even as they are not factual in an evidentiary sense. In that emotions invoke memory intensity these impressions may override what actually occurred from the perspective of a more disinterested observer.

We used to think the memories we had were pictures of the original event. Now we know that it is the last version of the memory, because each time we retrieve it, it changes a little bit. ~ American cognitive scientist Daniela Schiller

Memory is designed to help us make good decisions in the moment and, therefore, memory has to stay up to date. The information that is relevant right now can overwrite what was there to begin with. ~ American cognitive scientist Joel Voss

Memories are not simple snapshots from the past, but reconstructed representations biased by personal knowledge and world views. Sometimes we even remember events that never actually happened. Memories change when we repeatedly retrieve them, becoming more abstract and gist-like with each retrieval. ~ Spanish psychologist Juan Linde-Domingo

The adaptive purpose of memory is to guide decisions and inform the present. To meet that need, memories may be revised with each recall.

If you remember something in the context of a new environment and time, or if you are even in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information. ~ Donna Jo Bridge

Over time, cumulative updates via recall and insertion of new relevant information can so alter a memory that it is no longer an accurate representation of its inception. The veracity of a memory can become more false than true.

Our memories can change even if we don’t realize they have changed. ~ American psychologist Daniel Simons

Nostalgia is a seductive liar. ~ American diplomat George Ball

Memory Conformity

Our memories are often inaccurate. Ubiquitous sources of false recollection are social pressure and interpersonal influence. This phenomenon, dubbed “memory conformity,” is encountered in a variety of contexts, including social interactions, mass media exposure, and eyewitness testimony. In such settings an individual may change veridical recollections of past events to match a false account provided by others. ~ Israeli cognitive scientist Micah Edelson et al

Memory conformity – adhering to a social story – has 2 forms. Under private conformity, a person’s recollection is genuinely altered via social influence. In contrast, a person acting out of public conformity pretends to comply with the account of others, but inwardly maintains certitude in the original memory.

Peer pressure is powerful. On a trivial matter over 67% of the population readily submit to memory conformity. 40% readily buy into the brainwashing of private conformity. The rest go for the feint of public conformity.

Social influence, such as false propaganda, can deleteriously affect individuals’ memory in political campaigns and commercial advertising, and impede justice by influencing eyewitness testimony. Memory conformity may also serve an adaptive purpose, because social learning is often more efficient and accurate than individual learning. For this reason, humans may be predisposed to trust the judgment of the group, even when it stands in opposition to their own original beliefs. Such influences and their long-term effects may contribute to the extraordinary levels of persistent conformity seen in authoritarian cults and societies. ~ Micah Edelson et al

False Memories

People can develop rich and coherent autobiographical memories of entire events that never happened. ~ Canadian psychologist Alan Scoboria et al

There are many occasions when people feel strongly about past events, even though they might not have occurred. ~ Argentinian psychologist Roberto Cabeza

The mind’s willingness to update memory with relevant information gives license to instill fiction. False memory creation is a product of misinformation.

False memories are constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others. During the process, individuals may forget the source of the information. This is a classic example of source confusion, in which the content and the source become dissociated. ~ American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus

Memories are more easily modified when the passage of time has eroded the original memory. Suggestions going to shared memories are a potent force for reworking memory.

Corroboration of an event by another person can be a powerful technique for instilling a false memory. ~ Elizabeth Loftus

For mental comfort, the memories most subject to modification are those with negative emotional impact. Falsification of bad emotional memories happens more in adults than children, who have more need to remember such experiences as part of their learning how to navigate their world.

Infusing a memory with imagination is a formula for injecting falsities. This can be furthered by suggestion.

Psychological therapists have abused patients by suggestively introducing false memories using this technique. It is particularly effective on childhood memories, which therapists especially thrive on. Anyway, psychotherapy is a hoax: at best, a patch on the mental illness of valuing emotions, memories, and thoughts.

Generally, children generate false memories more easily than adults. The pattern-recognition process that helps youngsters learn facilitates insertion of false details into memory recall. But children are better at not generating false memories when it comes to remembering a conversation.

During a linguistic activity the mind goes through a semantic process: comparing the words heard with memory to unravel meaning. Such semantic evaluation is less efficient in children than adults, as the process is not as developed or automated. The extra effort a child must make to remember what was said lessens the probability of creating a false memory.

The same processes that produce these “false memories” amongst healthy adults are also responsible for their having better memory. ~ Spanish cognitive scientist Pedro Paz-Alonso

False memories have no boundaries. Even people with superior recall – so-called “photographic memory” – are prone to false memories.

False memories are recalled along the same processing pathways as real memories, giving the falsies verisimilitude. False memories do lack sensory information, as they never occurred; but the general sketchiness of memory means that this sensory deficit does not lessen the sense of veracity.

Given the advantage of memory accuracy, the pervasiveness of false episodic memories suggests an evolutionary trade-off, which comes in the faculty for episodic versus semantic memory. Insects are as prone to false memories as humans.

The tendency toward false memories is a price paid for the cognitive knack to categorize. To some extent, the ability to learn and employ categories, concepts, and rules compromises episodic memory integrity.

Individuals who are particularly good at learning rules and classifying objects by common properties are also particularly prone to false memory illusions. ~ English sensory and ethologist Lars Chittka

Memory Myths

We’ve known since the 1930s that memories can become distorted in systematic ways. We’ve known since the 1980s that even memory for vivid, very meaningful personal events can change over time. ~ Daniel Simons

When people recall an emotionally-charged event, they believe that their vivid memories are precise and accurate, largely because they rarely encounter evidence for distortions in their own memories. ~ Daniel Simons & American psychologist Christopher Chabris

Myths about memory are common. 78% of adult Americans think unexpected objects grab the attention. Instead, attentional focus readily precludes consciously perceiving oddities.

You can’t convince people that their memories are wrong. ~ American psychologist Elizabeth Phelps

63% think that memory works like a video camera. 55% think that hypnosis can enhance recall. 48% think that memory is immutable. None of those suppositions are true.

Incorrect beliefs about the properties of memory have broad implications. The media conflate normal forgetting and inadvertent memory distortion with intentional deceit, juries issue verdicts based on flawed intuitions about the accuracy and confidence of testimony, and students misunderstand the role of memory in learning. ~ Daniel Simons & Christopher Chabris

Perfect Memory

It does seem odd that memory is so fallible; but it is necessarily so, to have memory effectively function as a utilitarian device.

The famous mnemonist Solomon Shereshevsky illustrated the downside of a perfect memory. (Shereshevsky was studied by Russian psychologist Alexander Luria for 30 years, beginning in the 1920s.) While Shereshevsky’s recall was flawless, he had cognitive problems, as details got in the way of understanding.

Shereshevsky had tremendous trouble recognizing faces. As his memory housed a great many versions of every face he had ever seen, rather than the rough sketches normally remembered, a change of lighting or facial expression meant a new face.

Shereshevsky had similar problems processing language. He could always play back the exact words spoken to him but understanding the point of a paragraph was difficult. Essentially, Shereshevsky had a form of autism.

Involuntary Memory

Much of our everyday remembering consists of information coming to mind involuntarily. ~ Georgian psychologist Lia Kvavilashvili

An involuntary memory is a spontaneous recollection without conscious effort. Distinct brain pathways are activated during involuntary memory from that of conscious recall, as nattermind works a different groove. The character and conditions under which involuntary memories occur vary greatly.

The problem with our memories is not that nothing comes to mind – but that irrelevant stuff comes to mind. ~ American psychologist Benjamin Levy

Insight related to the incubation of solving a problem, recovery from a tip-of-the-tongue state, or sudden remembrance of needing to do something (prospective recall) are exemplary involuntary memories; all of which proceed from conscious thought with intention.

Involuntary memories also arise without previous provocation. They may be most unwelcome. Intrusive memories may keep coming to mind despite attempts to suppress them. A flashback of a traumatic event is exemplary; such is the bane of victims of post-traumatic stress.

Proustian Memory

The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment. ~ French novelist Marcel Proust

In the 7th and last volume of Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past) (1927), the narrator begins to eat a small lemony cake – madeleine – while drinking tea. That moment of taste takes him back to a scene of his youth, eating tea-soaked cake in his aunt’s home. From there he trips down memory lane, filled with nostalgia.

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me… Suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine… The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea. ~ Marcel Proust in In Search of Lost Time

This form of involuntary recall – tripped by a sensation – is called Proustian memory.

Mind Pops

Cognitive pattern-matching lends itself to associating sortals by similarity. These links lurk in memory, shrouded by the subconscious.

Most of the information we encounter on a daily basis activates certain representations in the mind. Later on, other things in the environment may trigger these already active concepts, which have the feeling of coming out of nowhere. ~ Lia Kvavilashvili

A mind pop is an involuntary memory that spontaneously brings to awareness a fragment from the past: be it a word, fact, or perception. A mind pop recalls a sortal related to a current thought stream, though the relation may be inscrutable. Mind pops typically arise when concentration flags; the mind having been primed by a thought stream.

In a moment of conscious repose, the subconscious ramind flings a mind pop into the spotlight of conscious thought. Though it seems to be coming out of nowhere, a mind pop stems from a sortal association to active mentation, or a cue picked up from the environment which may be beneath conscious attention.

Mind pops may enhance problem-solving, creativity, or the ability to perceive previously unseen connections in facilely disparate concepts. In this regard, they are an evolutionary adaptation.

If many different concepts remain activated in your mind, you can make connections more efficiently than if activation disappears right away. ~ Lia Kvavilashvili

Mind pops are more frequent for the mentally ill than among the healthy. Under schizophrenia, the mind’s discipline has completely broken down: streams of thought shift abruptly; the mind latches onto fragments, repetitively recalling them. Mind pops are a motif on the march of madness.

Memory Inflation

Imagining performing an action can induce false memories of having actually performed it. ~ German psychologist Isabel Lindner et al

As an adaptive device, memory is a vehicle for learning that pays scant heed to accuracy. Memory instead serves to incorporate what is subconsciously deemed helpful and distort or suppress what is not.

Having something useful come to mind is enough to tuck it away with self-identification attached. Imagination inflation is the false memory of having done something that one only imagined.

We continually create false personal narratives and biased histories. 40- to 60-year-olds naturally push memories of negative moral actions roughly 10 years deeper into their past than memories of positive ones. ~ Robert Trivers

Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery; it is also the most archaic form of social learning. Every gregarious animal learns by observation from others.

Given imagination inflation, it comes as no stretch to own what one what has witnessed. Observation inflation is the false memory of having done something that has only been seen.