Structuring Memory

Memory is the mind’s personal library – the repository of learning and skill, thereby enhancing living. Memories are story sketches, not full portrayals of events. With so much to accumulate, the mind readily merges similar events over time, efficiently filing memories according to their structural characteristics.

As a technique to facilitate recall, memories are typically associative: linking relations into a knowledge web. The mind has to go to extra effort to learn novel concepts. Paradigmatic shifts are a monumental mental accomplishment, thereby limiting acumen after childhood, when the mind is most flexible. The reason for this inflexibility lies in how memories are stored.

Similarities in story structure and essence – the heart of a situation – guide memory storage and recollection rather than surface similarities, such as the thematic gist, setting, or protagonists. “Analogical retrieval is predominantly driven by structural similarity,” reports French psychologist Lucas Raynal.

Only when the mind lacks knowledge – sufficient associated structural reference points – does the mind turn to surface clues to recall a situation. “It’s only out of ignorance that superficial clues take precedence,” states Swiss psychologist Emmanuel Sander.


Ishi Nobu, The Echoes of the Mind, BookBaby (2019).

Lucas Raynal et al, “Are superficially dissimilar analogs better retrieved than superficially similar disanalogs?,” Acta Psychologica (February 2020).

Our memory prefers essence over form,” Medical Xpress (14 February 2020).

Lucas Raynal et al, “Structural similarity superiority in a free-recall reminding paradigm,” (September 2018).

Lucas Raynal et al, “Challenging the superficial similarities superiority account for analogical retrieval,” (May 2017).