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Look what I found in my brain...

I've been listening to CoverVille podcasts all day; mostly it's been background music. But when I started listening to the Alice Cooper episode something weird happened.

I didn't think all that much of Alice Cooper when his band was active in the 70s and I was majorly obsessed with rock music. And I don't think I've heard most of these songs even once in the past 25-30 years. But as soon as I began playing them, they all came back into my consciousness in perfect condition, and I enjoyed all of them quite a lot more than I used to.

Music mostly gets stored in my memory in a sequential access manner, like a cassette tape. As soon as I heard each song, I recognized it, and when the cover version was different from the original, I remembered what the original sounded like. I would have expected my memories of music that old to be fuzzy and distorted like a cassette tape stuffed at the back of a closet for years. But the storage seems really detailed and accurate.

Music is a pretty reliable way for me to feel and express emotions and I guess that's part of the reason the storage is high quality, because people supposedly store memories better when there's strong emotion involved. But what's especially weird in this case is that I didn't consciously like most of these songs back then. I guess on some level I did like them or at least reacted to them emotionally.

What's it like for you when you re-encounter music from your past?

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/662010.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
when i was a kid we had 'help' and 'hard day's night' in the house. i never disliked them, but had other things to listen to when i got into music as a teen and twenty something. during my 30's i had a relationship with a music lover, who one day brought home the CD of one of them, don't remember which. for some reason he had the idea of pausing each track at the end and asking me to sing the beginning of the next one. of course, i knew every single one.
Mar. 1st, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)
The most common bit is that I'll realize I have some song going through my head, and spend a bit trying to figure out what it is and what it's from (and what brought it to mind). This can be things I've heard once, over twenty years ago.

But... though while it's not nearly as cool as I would have expected, there is some evidence that I'm eidetic in at least auditory (and possibly visual as well, though in that case only from my mid teens on). There is a grab bag of caveats there, though.

Worse, my PI was the first person to opine this.
Mar. 1st, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
What is PI in this context?

I don't think my auditory qualifies as eidetic but it can be pretty vivid.
Mar. 1st, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
PI in this case mean principle investigator - which is to say head of the lab and my advisor.

I was grumping to a friend (who's a writer and who has done a lot of research on eideticism) about my PI deciding I had an eidetic auditory memory, which was so obviously not the case and her response was "Actually, from talking to you that seems pretty likely..." which did in fact turn into one of the more interesting conversations I've had. I've known for a long time that my ability to replay datastreams is unusual among most people I know. (Like, for instance, lectures - this has been very useful.) In fact, I'd had a roommate who said she was eidetic, and it had occurred to me that her memory didn't seem much different than mine - but that mostly had me doubting her being eidetic. Eh. I still think it should be cooler than this. And pain and fatigue shouldn't damage it, either. But I have to admit it explains a few things. But whatever the case it, that aspect is clearly not the oddest thing about my brain.

(The other thing that came out of the conversation was the question of whether I might have low latent inhibition... and that might explain the things that are oddest about my brain. Or, from my perspective, why so many people seem confused by me.)
Mar. 1st, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
That's really interesting.

I looked up "low latent inhibition" and closed the Wikipedia window wondering how that is different from the aspect of ADD where it is difficult to block external stimuli.
Mar. 1st, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure, and I expect that there is some overlap. It's particularly hard for me to say because I really understand my experience of the world better than I do that of anyone else (well, not really a shock) and even having spent a couple of years working with children with unmedicated ADHD, my sense of how that all works is purely extrapolative.

Personally, I've never had problems concentrating on doing things* and while I had some issues with too much sensory input when I was younger (and some ongoing tendency towards hyper-vigilance) I don't think these were particularly apparent to anyone else. It shows up a lot in how I deal with memory - memory has the potential to be almost terrifyingly immersive for me. (There used to be no almost about it... and I suspect this is one of the reasons I've had a meditative practice since before I could read.) The data stream is rich enough that it can overwhelm what is around me, if I let it - and throw in being younger, and things that were linked to strong emotion and, well, not fun. And often the world just seems thick with memory - because there is more memory than there is present. I can really see how this is linked to both autism and schizophrenia. (And I suspect this is one of the reasons Chan meditation has been so compelling to me. It builds on a lot of what I'd already learned about just being here.)

On the more useful side, this is something that I'm having my face rubbed in a lot more in academia, as I'm in the situation of exposing my thought processes to people now, something that I'd general learned to avoid. The recollection for detail stands out, but not extraordinarily - I've worked with several people who were eidetic in one modality or another. What stands out much more is... I guess a kind of ability to extrapolate from data and a kind of pattern matching that's fairly unusual. I'm happy that my favorite - and very bright - people to work with are so tolerant of logical processes that at some very basic level don't make much sense to them.

* Okay, as I get more tired or more in pain I can become quite absentminded - I think I tend to expect myself to be able to keep a huge amount of things in working memory and to multitask very well, and as the available RAM tanks, well...
Mar. 1st, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
So to oversimplify -- the difference between what you experience and ADD is that people with ADD have more difficulty tuning out external environment, whereas you have more difficulty tuning out memory (or you would have, if you weren't good at managing it with meditation and other tools).

The experience with music that I described in this post suggests to me that in some areas I have a lot of memory stored but I don't usually have access to it except when it's exposed by an external stimulus.

Brains are weird...
Mar. 1st, 2010 10:31 pm (UTC)
Mm. Yes and no. What I suspect is that I don't tune out environmental stimuli very much* - probably less so than many ADD folks - but mostly that I have very good coping strategies around it. That it shows up so much as a memory issue is, I suspect, just a combination of a fairly unfiltered memory stream and a fairly retentive memory - there is simply more past than present, and if I let it, the past is pretty much as immediate as the present.

When I think about something I thought I knew, I can remember the what magazine it was in, and where I read it, and what the room looked like, and the angle of the light (and extrapolate from that about when this happened - which is really why I'd been remembering in the first place), and what my mother had been saying to me while I read the article.

* I guess I'm not addressing this part as much because it's harder to explain. If there was a conversation in the room, and I was reading and focusing on something else, I might not have been paying attention, but I heard it, and it's accessible to me, if I turn my attention to it. (Though if I don't turn my attention to it within a few hours it doesn't really get indexed at all.) But that's really an oversimplification. A lot of it is more about noticing a lot of things at the same time...

...and it's time to teach Chen, so I'm doing that now ;-)
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