Thursday, September 23, 2010

1.8 Secrets of Memory/Digit Memory System

Physician's Notebooks 1 - See Homepage

8.  Memory - How to Use It and Not Lose it  Update 29 July 2018. The below descending column should show what is in the chapter and be used to locate for reading

Use Sound to Help Recall
Number Memory
The System of picturing numbers
Pay Attention to Significant Meaning
Rapid Forgetting of Transient Memory
Prevent Absent-Minded Forgetting
Mnemonic Memorizing Non-Number Facts
memory helper
anomia (the difficulty finding names)
memory disturber
Alzheimer Disease
  Tips for Keeping Good Memory Function in Brain
Medicine that harms Memory;
Emotional versus Content Memory
Entertaining Fiction

This chapter will help you become a mental marvel of facts, numbers and data.

Use Sound to Help Recall  A brain accesses recall of learned facts and numbers from sounds. Almost every old person suffers from occasional inability to recall quickly a famous, well-known name. Sometimes it signals the start of Alzheimer's Disease.  The following are a few of my experiences with this condition called anomia. Recently I needed the name of a man I once knew, a fellow whose face I visualize but whose name eludes my tongue. Finally I give up, and a day later at lunch in restaurant, after tasting a spoonful of lobster soup, I almost shriek, “This soup is too thick!” No sooner does “thick” pass my lips than I suddenly have the name: “Thicke! Eric Thicke!”
  In the above case a chance connection gives insight into the brain's use of sound to recall a seemingly forgot word, here a name I once knew. The chance connection helps explain the common experience of sudden recall – often on awakening – of lost, sought name. What happens is that a similar sound – from reading, conversation, thought, dream – has fitted like key in lock and opened door to recall. 
  OK, that is a passive approach to anomia. But the following cases suggest an active technique. 
  Being a 1940's music and lyrics buff, I admire Alec Wilder songs. One day, one of his songs delights me. I recall my appreciation for Wilder but can't bring his name to my lips. I try mouthing first-names by alphabet. “Adam”, “Adelbert”, “Alexander!” Stopped by familiar sound, I follow Alexander into its shortening: “Alex”, “Alec”, “Alec Wilder!” "Got it!"
Here one can see the use in USA of the first (given) and last (sur-) name connection. Given names are usually more accessible to recall than surnames so the above technique, what I call "the A to Z alphabet run", can be done quickly and is not infrequently successful.
   In another case, one day I was thinking about fairly recent Irish history and suddenly I found I could not bring to mind a name that had been very familiar to me, a man who might be called "The George Washington of Ireland", the father of the independent Irish State and its first president. In my mind's eye I could see the man's face like he was in front of me but no name. Immediately as I tried to recall the name one fact came to mind: it was a Spanish surname, rather unusual for an Irishman, especially a father of his country. Thinking about Spanish surnames, it occurred to me that many such names had the equivalent of the German von or the Scotch-Irish Mc in front, which means something like "son of".  In Spanish, it is de and as soon as that sound passed my lips the blocked recall name popped into my mind - de Valera!  And immediately my mind connected onto the first or given name Eamon - Eamon de Valera.
  This suggests, first, that one try to pay attention to facts connected with names, especially out of the ordinary. Then, even though you may get anomia, it will usually be quickly corrected to recall the familiar name. The above - A to Z alphabet run and facts about a name - are 2 preventive techniques that will correct anomia immediately. Use your own imagination for other techniques.

Number Memory  
  Number recall will be easier if you look for pattern. Trying to memorize telephone # 321-1492, take note of the reverse number counting for 1st 3 digits and the year Columbus discovered America. Examples: Square root of 3 (1.732…) is Geo. Washington's birth year; of 2, and (1.414…) is 14 repeated. Sometimes a number is coded into sound in a word. For example, a medical student may be asked multiple choice: The number of cervical vertebrae is (4) (7) (8) (10)?  The correct choice, seven cervical vertebrae, is not easily forgot once learned if you connect the 1st syllable of “cervical”, which is sounded “se” to 1st syllable of “seven.” These examples are to jog your imagination. One can have fun figuring recall patterns.

The System of picturing numbers for recall gives sounds for the nine digits and zero. By combining the sounds, you can recall many-digit numbers almost instantly.
The Keys to the Code:
1 = the or d sound  A typewritten small has the number 1 down-stroke or you can think of a Tie hanging down from neck like the number  1.
2 = n.  A small has the number, 2 down-strokes.
3 = m.  A small has the number, 3 down-strokes.
4 = r.  The word for the number 4 ends with an r.
5 = l.  The fingers, with thumb extended straight out, form an L.
6 = j, sh, ch, or soft g. The number 6 and a capital are, except for the closed loop of the 6, almost mirror images: 6 J.
7 = k, hard c, hard g. You can make a capital with two number 7's, each turned on side and touching at the acute angle external point.
8 = fvph. The number 8 and a handwritten double-loop f  both have similar appearance.
9 = or bThe number 9 and are somewhat mirror images.
0 = The first sound in the number symbol zero is z, which can also be used for the sounds of s and soft c.

When one digit represents two or more sounds, as in 6, they are variations of the basic sound and including them all under one digit gives a greater variety of word construction. Note that the sound, not the printing is the key. Thus ph is 8, because it is sounded f. And a double consonant, like the tt in cotton, is the number 1, and not the number 11, because the sound is t. And knee is the number 2, and not 72. And a letter like X, with many different soundings is translated as you say it: thus, x ray is “eks ray”, so the number group 704; and you may pronounce Xerxes (Ancient Persian king) “Zerkzies,” in which case it is 04700. “Condition" is, kondishyon, 72162.  Some words have varying pronunciations, and the important thing is how you pronounce the word, even if your pronunciation is incorrect, because the system will be your system. Thus, if you pronounce bomb as “bombe”, translate to 939, but if you say it “bahm”, it is 93. You are the boss. You do it so it's understandable to you. When a word has sounds not corresponding to any number in the above, the sounds are treated as if a number and space for it did not exist. But it still can be used in the spoken sound, word or phrase for the recall. Thus 150 could be “oodles” or “tales” or other words with sounds translating to 150. Also one can use meaningless sounds or nonsense words, or perverted meanings and words.

This system has proven very useful to me for rapid recall of numbers. Think of your time wasted time mistaking or trying to recall phone number or other number. Thus the importance of a way to make number recall easy! The one I show here benefits me immensely because as a physician who is on the receiving end of requests for medical contacts it has been important for me to rapidly recall telephone numbers I just heard. And, happily, I learned this way to do it. With it I just glance at a 12-digit telephone number or a 16- or 19-digit credit card and recall it perfectly as long as I need to.

Continuing comments on the System: It is easier to remember a distinctive sound, or meaningful word or phrase than a several-digit number. Test it out. Make no attempt to memorize either of the following words and numbers. Just make a mental note of both and continue reading. But write yourself a “Do I remember?” and put it in your pocket. Then, later, when you next look at that paper see if you can remember the following words or number or both.
The number: 957411242854
black rhododendron flower is so distinctive in meaning and sound that you will find it rather difficult to forget, but, without the System, unless you are a number-recall idiot savant, you will not directly recall the 12-digit number.
The System can be used to assign numbers to names. For example, my name, Edward M. Stim, translates to 141-3-013. It can be used by a spy who wishes to mask names; also it is fun as a game to translate everyone's name to a number. Following are some practical uses of the system from experience.
Quick Telephone Number Recall: Very useful for us who get phone calls that require prompt call back, eg, your cell phone rings and you are asked to call a Mr. Brown right away at 873 3001.  Immediately your mind converts the commonly encountered 87 to the obscenely unforgettable “fuck”, the oft-used 33 into the improbable “mama”, and 001 into “sister", ie, "sista”.  Combining it all, you construct the hard-to-forget “Fuck mama, sista!" It illustrates points from experience with the System: For quick creation of sounds for numbers, use 2- or 3-number groups, and note some common word suffixes like –ing (27), or for plurals the added sound –es (0), or use past tense, all added –ed (1). Make use of obscenity and outrageous phrase and be relaxed about incorrect pronunciation to make it easy to find the right word quickly for a number.
Even nonsense, meaningless word or sound is useful (eg, 961 6399 = Pish tush, my baby!)
Number as Part of Fact or Data: Before a test where fact recall is important, the System is a gem. Converting sound from printed word to number often connects up important fact. For example: a quiz question “William McKinley was the --- U.S. President is easy for us who in memorizing the order of US Presidents particularly dote on McKinley because the “nl” sound can stand out as a reminder of his being 25th. And Franklin Pierce was the 14th Pres., easily memorized from the connection with “Pierced tire” (tire=14). Also, even if you may not be able to see a sound-word-number translation in every name, just knowing even a few can help get the rest. If you know Teddy Roosevelt succeeded McKinley on the latter's assassination, you know Teddy was the 26th. The System makes memorization fun. It stimulates using imagination.
Choosing PIN (personal identification number) or password number with an eye on the System allows you to choose important many-digit number so it can be translated unforgettably. Your name translates to a number, and that number could be ideal for a secret number, or part of one. If you worry this is too obvious for a con-man, give yourself a private nickname.
Use for Engineer, Scientist: Important physical constants can be easily recalled to 8 or 9 decimal places. Take the Greek pi, π, (circumference of a circle divided by its diameter), 3.14159265…? Since many students know the first 5 digits, all that's needed is “bone jelly” to access the next 4 decimal digits 9265. And if you want the whole 9 digits, try some delicious Mad Red Lee bone jelly for an unforgettable slice of pi. Many more examples of real world, practical long-digits – a product model number, a stock market big board number, etc – exist. The System will make you rich.
Pay Attention to Significant Meaning: Each minute, much data is presented to our senses but not paid attention. So keep alert to subliminal impression. An important impression may literally look one in the eye without alerting, eg, the “Tuesday, this library will be closed” sign that a library user walks by on the Monday before that Tuesday, not recognizing its relevance to his tomorrow's library trip, and, because he overlooks it, he ends up making unnecessary trip to a locked-library, a trip that could have been prevented if he paid more attention. Also pay attention to important acts that you do not wish to forget. For example, say you sit on the toilet in the office where you are employed? Sometimes it may happen that you may forget to flush the toilet when you leave. And when that happens you often can't be sure whether you did it or not even in the hour after. That can be very embarrassing if your coworkers realize you are the one. So how can you be sure a little bit afterwards that you did or didn't flush the toilet? The way to do it is, at that time, make a special mental note and see yourself in a ridiculous position flushing a toilet, like standing on your head flushing. Spend about 20 or 30 seconds concentrating on that vision. If you have done that, you will no longer be unsure in the period after whether or not you flushed the toilet because that ridiculous vision-image will not leave your head. This is just a small, maybe funny, example of how to be sure of things that happened to you in the recent past that you don't want to forget. But for this to work you must always have in your mind what is the important thing that you don't want to forget so that you can use this technique on it.  

Rapid Forgetting of Transient Memory: Related to paying attention is when we have transient but important thought, like “Must turn off gas before starting to talk on phone,” or, “Must remember insurance card and take it for doctor visit.” I am sure every reader forgets to take important thing or overlooks doing what he thought about doing because he forgot the thought before the act. To prevent this inconvenient and sometime dangerous forgetting make it a habit to “Do it as you think it,” and, if you cannot, then substitute “Write it down as you think it” or scribble note to yourself that will be kept in full view. I force my attention on a thing I may overlook when leaving my home by stopping at threshold and saying out loud “Did you remember everything?” (Insurance card, money, credit card, key) As routine behavior it will save inconvenient forgetting. Related to that is: not remembering you did an important act like "Did I turn off the gas?) and an hour or more later, far away from your home being bugged by the Did I? or Didn't I? question. So when you do an act you may importantly want to recall doing (like flushing your toilet after defecation) say out loud "I did it" or just intensely stare at what you are doing and make a outlandish mental note, eg, I flushed my shit down the toilet. And I guarantee you will have no problem remembering you did it. (And see just below)

Prevent Absent-Minded Forgetting  Relating to the above, two behaviors can prevent and reduce the absent-minded forgetting that causes too much trouble in one's life. First, the "fixing attention" on an object you will need to shortly remember. It could be a simple as spending an extra 15 seconds concentration on your just-bought subway ticket (in Tokyo) and the fact that you re putting it into your left-side pants pocket as you get on subway (Instead of the usual mindless shoving the ticket in a pocket and not activating your long-term memory about the ticket's location when you immediately need it on exiting) The "fixing attention" puts a time-activated red flasher in your pre-frontal cerebral cortex that goes off every  time you think "subway ticket" and flashes "left-side pocket". Another advantage of fixing attention is that it causes you to remember well that you just did something. Often it happens that we do not remember well whether we did or did not do the important action. For example, "Did I turn off the electricity or gas when I left my apartment?" or like questions which sometimes bug a person and cause him unnecessarily to go back to the apartment and check whether he did or did not do an important action that he should have remembered but did not. 
Another behavior to prevent your forgetting taking something with you from your office or home (like a credit card when you go out to shop) is to take the object out of your desk or out of your outer jacket pocket (which you might not wear going out) and lay it out in your close view on your desk or next to it. There you force visual feedback on the object. These two behaviors will eliminate 95% of absent-minded forgetting but you must not forget to do the behaviors in the first place. In the worst case, write a note to yourself and tie it around your wrist or just set a reminder on your phone. 

Mnemonic Memorizing Non-Number Facts is easy and enjoyable using already invented mnemonic and you may invent your own. Example: HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior) for names of the North American Great Lakes; ROY G. BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) for the primary colors.

One memory helper, not often thought as such isThesaurus. Everyone as he ages notes inability to bring needed word to tongue or tips of fingers. You know a fruit like a cantaloupe exists; you can picture it, recall its taste; color; you know it's a melon. But you cannot access its name onto the tip of tongue or into fingertips. Mostly it is temporary – within minutes the word becomes available – but the loss occurs at inconvenient moment. If you have Thesaurus at hand or can Google it, go to “food fruit” and its list and in seconds you'll find and recognize “cantaloupe” as the word you wanted but couldn't name. This becomes especially useful after brain stroke that affects recall of names. In fact in today's computer age you can use Google as thesaurus to find any almost forgotten name or concept.
   If you are bothered by anomia (the difficulty finding names of people whose names you should know), start paying attention to such people  (in my case in the list of US presidents, #13, Millard Fillmore, and #21, Chester Alan Arthur; and in both cases, once I noted that they were Vice Presidents who became Presidents on their president's death in office, I never again lost their names. The key is to invest important facts and names with an attention action (Simply thinking hard on the name, or looking hard at the fact you do not wish to forget)  Note this is a 3rd active technique to repair an anomia - the A-Z alphabet ploy and the unusual facts about a surname ploy.

A big memory disturber that we do not consider is the free floating anxiety in each person's mind due to daily worries and caused by bad living. The more one's mind is occupied with worries and fears (the paranoias of life, I call them) the harder it is to have a sharp memory. Of course, one cannot quickly remove one's worries but one should try hard to arrange life most simply by getting rid of the complications, by ending longstanding problems.

Alzheimer Disease (AD) memory loss is typified by being slow (May not be noticed for years), global (All parts of memory deteriorate) and inexorable. Close family may have noted deterioration, but first public notice is when one who seemed normal is sitting or wandering somewhere unable to find way home. And he is quite disturbed about this lapse of memory because at this stage of AD the memory system for most part is still functioning and one has insight. This typifies initial memory loss in AD due to a small here or there breakdown in nerve connection. Also, at the start old memories remain intact; it is the recent memories and especially directions for travel that are first, worst affected. Loss of naming is common (See 1st section of this chapter on anomia) to all old age but in Alzheimer's it worsens to the point that you call everyone or everything whatsisname or thingamajig.

Tips for Keeping Good Memory Function in Brain;
First, be aware that keeping a good memory is not only preventing the physical deterioration of brain-caused aging or disease; it is also keeping up with new techniques of making memory easier for you by making recall almost automatic. Like the already given memory system for recalling multiple-digit numbers by sounds. For example, at age 85 now, I actually have a better recall than before even though my brain has undoubtedly deteriorated, because I kept up and learned new systems to help my old-age faulty recall. So do not take a fatalist attitude toward loss of memory with aging. 
  In the physical sphere, central to all memory loss is the decreasing nutrition of brain cell. This can be prevented by keeping low the low-density cholesterol (LDL-C below 60 mg%, or 1.6 mMole/L), avoiding or lowering high blood pressure and keeping good cardiac output by protecting your heart from unnecessary physical stresses. Alzheimer Disease is not circulatory but it is worsened and brought on earlier when poor circulation destroys defenses and unmasks it. Another preventive is avoiding head trauma, even minor banging, and this requires being alert to it. (Wear visor cap to warn of a coming bang on forehead ahead of time) Finally, and importantly, exercising your brain by good reading and intellectual work will slow its aging.

Medicine that harms Memory; The diazepam medicines, Valium, Librium, Xanax, Solanax, and anti-depressants like Tofranil  may cause absent-minded forgetting. So if you take the medications, be extra alert to prevent absent-minded misplacing like whenever you leave a place, stopping at the door and asking yourself; Have I forgot anything? Or do I have everything with me? An alcohol-drunk period can have loss of memory, and heavy prolonged alcohol intake leads to a memory loss syndrome, made famous by the late great actor John Barrymore, who, to compensate, became master of the witty ad lib or humorous aside, poking fun at his own disability. (To see the master at his typical ad libs, click John Barrymore Interview 1940 - YouTube )

Emotional versus Content Memory: The content of an event and the emotional reaction to it are separately registered in your brain, and it is adaptive and healing to forget the emotional response, while continuing to accurately recall the content (Mother's death). Clinical depression occurs because the victim cannot seem to forget the emotional response to an event. When you note a bad emotional response to an event, go out of your way not to keep the memory of it intact.
For basics, click 9.37 Neurology of Memory- Brain Anatomy .
(For entertaining fiction that teaches Memory, click 3.24 Seminar 4; Super Memory at .
      To read next chapter, click 1.9 Losing, Misplacing or Accidently Breaking Valu...