Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Memory Science Part 1: The Theory - AKA Spring Break '91 Wooohooo!

So Christian and I have known each other for a long time, and with that long friendship has come a plethora of memories, all good of course. Well, as we’ve mentioned here on PCPPP, we loves us some science. Awhile back, I was listening to a favorite podcast--Radiolab for you curious folks--which seemed to suggest that the more I remembered those fond memories with my buddy Kristian, the less accurately I actually remembered them (and that has something to do with neuroscience). In fact, it implied that every time I remembered a specific experience that Chris and I shared, I was remembering them more wrongly than the last time. Fearful that I may altogether one day forget all of the fun times I had with my friend Steve, I decided to STOP trying to remember those things for good!

I remained steadfast in that commitment until he and I got together over a beer or four (memory gets fuzzy, y’know) and decided to test that old Radiolab theory. We challenged each other to remember a trip we took whilst in college, to a then little known town called Las Vegas (this was before what happened there had to stay there). What follows is a four-part attempt to re-create the past. That’s right loyal readers, this is the first PCPPP mini-series! Enjoy (and sorry you have to witness the degeneration of our minds).

ps-  if you want to check out that podcast, listen here.

Pat:  You up for this one buddy? A little trip down, as they say, “memory lane” (which was really Interstate 5 and State highways 89 and 95)?

Christian: My memory is like a steel trap. A steel trap that has been left open or possibly never set, so I don’t know how I’ll do on this.   

I’m not going to blame my poor memory on alcohol or anything because that would be making excuses and I don’t remember what we’re talking about just now. However, Alzheimer's is a dangerous game buddy. One that you don’t want take lightly. You can take that to the bank. Just don’t take it lightly to the bank.  

Ah! I remember what we’re talking about - science! I think I have asked you this before but is Radiolab an NPR show? Actually, don’t tell me, I want to just believe that it is. Back to the science. The answer to your question is that, yes, I am OBVIOUSLY up for this one. Despite what I might have just said a few seconds ago.  

And for our kindly readers’ information (FKRI?), this was a spring break trip that occurred in 1991. Way before we even had science. So as you can imagine there is a good chance our memories may conflict on this.  

But in my professional science opinion this memory theory they are hypothesizing is a bunch of shit-crap. I’m not buying it. Do you really think the more you recall something the more you distort it? I say the more you think about it the more you cement the facts into your brain’s storage places.   

Pat:  Don’t let me get in the way of your steadfast beliefs, Christian...I’m all for the cementing of ideas into our brains. That whole “keep an open mind” initiative is a load of hogwash!

But try to think of it this way...it’s like the game of “Operator”. The more you try to pass on a phrase (or, if you’ve already lost the analogy, a memory) the more likely it is to get distorted, convoluted and misinterpreted. Kinda’ like an old mix tape too, I guess. In essence, the further you get away from the original, the more apt you are to be wrong.

This could have wonderful implications! Imagine the next time your spouse lures you into an argument about you paying attention to what she was saying or doing:

Spouse: Hey, did you hear what I said?

You: Yes, of course I did.

Spouse: Really? Prove it! What did I say?

You: I know, but I can’t tell you. If I tell you it will be based on my memory, and according to the theory-that-Pat-likes, I will likely get it wrong. So please just trust that I am with you here, now, in the moment, and that I will take care of whatever your needs are.

Spouse:  Damn, that Pat sure knows his science. I love you, dear.

You:  (smiling a knowingly satisfied smile) Yep.

See, if we have totally different memories of our Spring Break Trip from 1993, then science is RIGHT, and you, my friend, might get some lovin’!

Christian:  I’m not buying your “Operator” analogy and where I came from we called it “Elephant Telephone” not “Operator”.  But for simplicity’s sake, we can call it “Elephant Operator Telephone”.

Anyways, what “Elephant Operator Telephone” demonstrates is that information is lost through communication. As information, or an idea, is passed from one individual to another the individual subconsciously applies his or her preconceptions to the information with the potential side effect that said information may be slightly altered.  

This memory theory of yours is stating that as one individual recalls their own information they are themselves altering it. It’s like comparing Walla Walla apples to Granny Smith apples. Totally different.

As a side note, “Duck, Duck, Goose” which we called “Marsupial, Marsupial, Kangaroo”,  demonstrates how a wireless router works.

But enough about debating silly analogies. Let’s get to some hardcore science!  

Here’s what we’re going to do, our dear agile readers; We have both agreed to write out a synopsis of our trips without consulting or reading each other’s. Mine will be posted later this week, while Pat’s will be posted next week along with our conclusions and analysis of the findings. We’re going to science the hell out of this memory theory!


  1. Maybe some of your fancy science can help the poor Haiti dude.

    Once, my husband and I got ripped off by a pizza delivery person and didn't find out out until later in the week. When we had to describe the person my husband said it was a big black guy and I said it was a midget Asian woman. So I'm curious as to your own findings here.

  2. This post made me lose a lot of the science that I had in my head. I guess I was thinking about it too much? OR not enough? I don't even know anymore!

  3. Hmm...I'm stuck on the Haiti thing, mostly because I am pretty sure that our Spring Break trip stuck to the western states. Could be wrong, in which case science is RIGHT!

  4. @Majid - I know that all this extravagant science talk makes it sound like Pat and I can accomplish anything, but in reality we're still trying to figure out how balloons work.

    @Tumbleweed - I love it when pizza and science work together in harmony.

    @Megiweg - That means it's working! Just like when you apply Head & Shoulders to only one side of your head and you feel that side tingling. That's science too!

    @Pat - No. You're wrong, which means science is WRONG! Wait. No. You're right, but since is still WRONG! I think. It doesn't matter. When our experiment is all said and done we'll finally know where this science thing stands.