Intelligent Memory; Is Your Mid as Sharp Be? Do Everyday Problems Leave You Baffled? in This Fascinating Series, an Expert on the Brain Shows How to Use Your Memory to Think More Clearly and Creatively

Article excerpt

Byline: BARRY GORDON

THERE'S an old joke about Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night, Holmes wakes up Watson and says: 'Look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce.' Watson ponders the view for a minute. 'I see millions of stars,' he replies. 'Even if only a few of them have planets, and even if only a few of those planets are like Earth, there must be life out there. That's what I deduce.' Holmes looks at him aghast and says: 'Watson, you idiot!

Someone stole our tent!' Absurd though it is, that joke tells us something very interesting about the way our minds work. Watson isn't really wrong with his deduction - in fact, he uses his knowledge of life and cosmology to make a series of shrewd connections and reach a perfectly plausible conclusion.

The trouble is, in doing so, he misses another set of connections - that since he and Holmes can see the stars, their tent isn't there and someone must have taken it.

And that, as Holmes's exasperation indicates, is a far more relevant and pressing issue.

What both men are doing in this joke (with differing levels of success) is using their 'intelligent memory' - a subconscious part of the brain we often neglect.

It is the part of our minds that fails us when we feel we aren't thinking as quickly or cleverly as we would like to - when we're not 'joining the dots' as well as other people.

Ordinary memory is responsible for remembering specific times, places, people, events and facts.

It's what lets us down when we can't remember where we put the car keys, or what we wanted to buy when we came out shopping.

Intelligent memory is different. It is where we keep connections and meanings - the vital links between ideas that enable us to solve problems and think creatively.

FOR example, when you're searching for where you put your car keys, it's your intelligent memory that will remind you that you've got a spare set in the kitchen drawer.

Break this process down and you'll see how clever it is.

Rather than just focusing on a simple effort of recall - 'Where are those blasted keys?' - intelligent memory looks at the meaning behind the problem ('I want the keys because I want to start the car') and makes connections to other facts that can offer a lateral solution ('I put a spare set in the drawer six months ago').

In the same way, when you're caught without your shopping list, and can't remember what was on it, intelligent memory will remember that you're holding a dinner party tomorrow tonight, you're planning to cook chicken casserole, the recipe requires X, Y and Z, so you need to buy some chicken breasts, onions and white wine.

Amazingly, none of those connections need ever consciously appear in your mind. The thing about intelligent memory is that you don't have to force it into action, as we do with ordinary memory. It creates ideas that pop to mind effortlessly.

Each of us, no matter how poor our ordinary memory, has an extraordinary amount of intelligent memory, and we use it all the time.

For example, it is intelligent memory that you are using to read these words. It is sprinting along, translating the marks on the page into words you can recognise, and drawing on past experience to figure out what those words mean.

Intelligent memory is at work in every facet of our mental life. It is normally almost invisible, but you can learn to recognise it in action.

For example, do you understand this question?

Hough dou peapel rede gnew wirds?

DID you get it instantly - or did it take a few seconds? Maybe you're still flummoxed. The question is: 'How do people read new words?' The words have been distorted, forcing you to reprogam the steps your intelligent memory takes in the reading process.

While the letters and combinations are familiar, the words are not. …