I woke up this morning from the usual round of incoherent dreams that made little or no sense. I promptly forgot the dreams, but then a single word dropped in the comments section under a random news article prompted me to remember the dream. Then, a little later, after I’d read a few more news articles and sat down to write a brief note on the dream, I realized I’d again forgotten the dream. What’s more, I’d forgotten the word that originally prompted me to remember the dream, as well as which article I’d read off of which news site.
I had to retrace my steps. I grabbed my tablet, on which I’d read the article but had set to charging, because I wasn’t confident I could find the article from my laptop. At first, I thought it was from a comment off of the Huff Post news site, but then I remembered that wasn’t quite right. I jumped over to my browser history, and finally recalled that it was just a random news blog linked to from Google News.
The word in the comments was “Nike,” and then I could remember that I’d had this dream where I’d been mistakenly identified as a young man in a photo who was caught running away from an old lady who had fallen over instead of stopping to help her. The young man was wearing Nike shoes, and I could confidently declare that he wasn’t me, since I haven’t owned a pair of Nikes in years (which is true in real life as well.)
The content of the dream seems to have been mostly meaningless, but the act of forgetting, remembering, forgetting, re-remembering–all in the span of half an hour–is more interesting to me.
The content of the article whose comments contained the word Nike was also only mildly interesting–a piece about the lawsuit brought against the barefoot running shoe people. What really struck me as fascinating was that a single word dropped in a sea of information could deliver the impact of helping me recall a dream when recall was otherwise fruitless.
The word itself did not appear in print in the dream, but did appear as the symbol, and was also spoken. When I read the word upon waking, the first thing my mind did was jump to the moment in the dream in which I saw the symbol in the photograph on the young man’s shoes. My mind did not jump to the subsequent discussion of the photograph that took place in the dream where the word was mentioned. Clearly, the information stored in the brain associated with a well-known symbol was the key to unpacking the memory.
Of course, not all memories are readily associated with symbols, but the ones that are most readily retrieved often have the symbol/word connection as the starting point of remembering. Perhaps I should begin a scrapbook of symbol/word/memory description/memory image connectors. A tactile database that is an attempt to reflect what’s in my head.
One frustrating part about being a human is the persistent notion that I may be going about cataloging what’s in my head in a very inefficient way, while some other person has successfully set up a methodology of storage and retrieval that enables them to clearly obtain all of the information that’s ever entered their head. The other aspect of this is the strong wish that my brain could be made to be more effecient so that I don’t have to rely on technology or tactile systems of memory collection in order to keep my experiences accessible and uncluttered.
In other words, if we can build databases and file systems out here, why can’t we recreate the same sort of things inside of us in the form of mnemonic devices, the way that the old bards and other great keepers of oral history had to do?