Thursday, June 23, 2005

Memories and Language

Here is an essay which describes memories in the very young, which got me thinking. People always talk about "thinking to themselves" as if they were talking in their head. Here's my question:

Do most people actually "think things out" via language in their head? I don't. I can hear these words as I type them - not before I type them - but that's just because I trained myself to be able to tell whether they would sound decent spoken. The only time I think in words is when I'm daydreaming or trying to think of a particular word.

I think this might be related to my extremely poor "situational memory". I have a very good memory for concepts and relationships. I have a very poor memory when it comes to remembering a particular event, or what happened on a particular night, or anything else which isn't directly related to some conceptual model. Most people talk as if they have "clear memories" of their childhood or important parts of their life. For example: "I still remember exactly what I was doing when JFK was assassinated! I can remember it exactly."

I can't. The only "memories" I remember like that are ones I've gone over in my head quite a few times - PUTTING THEM IN WORDS. I'm pretty sure they don't directly relate to the originals any more. I can remember how many fights I got in, I can remember my poor grades... but I can't remember why I got in the fights, or with whom. I can't remember who the teachers were, save for a few exceptional ones, and they are so foggy I might as well have just seen them on a TV show a few weeks ago.

Also, a lot of people tend to go over things in their mind over and over. For example, if someone does something to you, you might have a hard time sleeping that night because you're going over what happened and all the responses - zany and realistic - that you should have done/are going to do. This implies - in my mind - that this is a simple mechanism for firmly lodging that event into the core of your brain. You're describing, re-describing, and propagating a specific event. Next time something like it happens, you'll be ready! Ready-ER, at any rate.

Strange. Makes me think. Think, not "speak in my head".

I wonder if this relates to introversion/extroversion, or maybe creativity, or some other facet of personality that isn't adequately explained by anything else. I know that I can tell a pretty wild story - perhaps this is because my language center isn't "limited" to the reality that hundreds of lingually-encapsulated memories have shaped. Free of standard "logic chains" shaped by ten thousand memories of ten thousand days, my language center is out of control! Wooo! Parrrrteeeee!

So tell me: when you think, do you think "out loud" in your mind? Or, like me, do you just think?


Brian Ellis (yup, that one) said...

This is, oh, about nine months late, but like you, I just think. And I find myself similarly perplexed by the descriptions of thought that seem to involve speaking in one's head, to the extent where I assumed I was in the minority.

The thing about remembering where you were when JFK was assassinated, by the way, is actually an exceptional edge case. Psychological studies have shown pretty conclusively that while you may *think* you remember exactly what you were doing when some traumatic event (JFK, 9/11, etc.) occurred, actually you're probably wrong. Those memories are no more reliable than any other, they're just more vivid -- perhaps, as you say, because people go over them agian and again and reinforce the memory, making subtle alterations each time without really realizing it.

Craig Perko said...

Well, nice that someone had something to say about it!

Thanks for the info, welcome to the blog, and why the hell are you reading such old posts? Stick to the new ones: the old ones are terrible.