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Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Multi-Tasking Gene or How Weird Our Memories Can Be

I'm kind of proud of myself (it doesn't take much).

Today I peeled and chopped carrots and cleaned and chopped celery and I did with no tv, no kindle, no music even.  Just me, standing there at the kitchen counter, feeling the breeze from the open window, hearing the birds outside, and smelling the quinoa cooking in the pot.

That's probably pretty normal for a lot of you, but not for me.

I have a hard time doing one thing at a time.

There are some exceptions and they usually relate to work.  When I'm torching, etc, I want no distractions.

But I would never do what Monk or Poirot do... prepare a meal and sit at the table all by myself to eat it.  Nope.  I've got to put the tv on while I'm eating AND looking at photos on my phone at the same time.

And for those thinking this is perhaps an effect of the current generation, let me say that one of my most vivid memories of growing up is eating breakfast and reading the cereal box.  I mean everything on that box, interesting or not.  I read the ingredient list and the factoids and the weight.  Breakfast was the only time I could get away with that.

The few times I tried to read a book at the dinner table while eating... ha!  Yeah, no.  My father would have none of that.

I remember reading, many years ago, that there is no such REAL things as multi-tasking.  That our brains can't really do two things and once and what our brains ARE really doing is merely shifting back and forth quite rapidly from one task to another.

That made sense to me.

But what if it's not true?  What if you can allocate different parts of the brains to handle different tasks at the same time?

For example, remember as a kid rubbing your tummy and patting your head? Yes, it took some coordination and even then some people could never get it.  But I think the successful ones were instructing one part of their brain to rub the tummy while another part of their brain handled patting their head.

Not a conscious decision to do both at the same time.  More like one unconscious instruction with an overlying conscious instruction.

I find myself doing this, sort of, when I have something to memorize in a VERY short span of time.  I'll give you an example.

When I'm doing my bills.  I want to transcribe a date, an amount, and a vendor from a website to my datasheet.  If I try to remember all three at once, it rarely works.

Nov 17, $25.60, Amazon Kindle Books

I'll get one or two and then have to flip back to recall the third.

But if I "allocate" one piece of information to a different part of my brain, it seems easier.

For example, my eyes will make "like a photograph" of Nov 17, I'll speak $25.60, then the only part my brain has to remember is "Amazon Kindle Books".

I flip to my datasheet and retrieve each piece of information from its source.  My "eyes" recall the visual image of Nov 17, my lips sound out "$25.50", and my memory was easily able to hold "Amazon Kindle Books".

I've done this for years.

Now, you'd think someone who can do that could remember meeting people, their names, and their faces.

Maybe I just have memory issues that others don't.  Or maybe my memory just works differently than most.

I can tell you where in a book I saw something. Not quite like an eidetic memory (which some scientists don't believe exists anyway), but I can just visually remember what thickness part of the book it was in, which side of the page, and how far up or down on the page it was.

But I can meet someone at a party and forget their name within one minute.

I can't tell you how many times I've been with a group of people and someone starts to introduce me to someone else and that person says, "Oh, we know each other!  We met at so-and-so."  And I'm just standing there like a deer in the headlights going, "Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh".  I don't remember them AT ALL.

Maybe that's WHY I have to do those "brain compartmentalizing" tricks when transcribing info.  Maybe I can't retain much.  Ha ha ha!

Our memories are weird things.  I mean, how many times have you been DEAD sure you remember something a certain way, only to be proved completely wrong.  And you're shocked by the revelation because you were SO sure.

That's why witness testimony scares me.  People get things wrong... but they're so sure of what they remember.

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