Thursday, July 15, 2010


One of the things neurologists do, of course, is assess memory, yet it's also something that all of us deal with on a daily basis unrelated to concern about some pathological disorder of memory.

There are many "memory experts" who have written about the ways they have little tricks to remember things, but there are so many potential things to remember that this only goes so far.

Recently, I saw a doctor that I hadn't seen in years, called out to him, and was hoping to use his name in the conversation, since it's always a good thing socially to not only remember that you know someone, but also show that you remember who they are.

The best I could do was Leonard. I knew that was right, he just looked like Leonard, but the last name? Yipes. The only thing that kept surfacing was Leonard Cohen, and if there was anything I knew, it was that I didn't personally know anyone named Leonard Cohen. But the harder I tried, the more times I tried, I could get past it. Bummer.

I ended up using his first name, which may have pleasantly surprised him enough that things were Ok -- after all, he never used my name, so he may have been having the same experience.

Later, I did what I often do in this situation, an alphabetical search. I start at the beginning of the alphabet, with Leonard A, Leonard B, Leonard C, and so on. And within no time I had it, and I'll say, it is not a common last name either.

So what is this, some mnemonic device? I would consider a technique, but it's certainly not like the usual sorts of methods that might more logically be called by that term. I would consider it a way of blocking intrusive and wrong memories. The problem I was having was my mind kept getting locked up in the kneejerk Leonard >> Cohen connection, so what this alphabetic search does is attempt to break that connection and force some other last name first letter in there. And it worked, really within less than a minute. It's always impressive when something works that well and that fast.

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