Imagine this: You wake up one morning and start your day. You remember exactly where you left your keys, you know exactly how many minutes the coffee will take to brew, and you know exactly what route to take to work to avoid traffic. At work, you can recall your first patient’s allergies, past medications, and medical history without having to look at their chart. Weird. Two hours and several patients later, you sit down for your study break since your MOC board exam is six months away. You start with Preview/Review questions, and you’re able to answer each and every question without exerting much brain power.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Sometimes, it’s neat to imagine your brain operating like a computer, but as appealing as it sounds, having a brain that stores information in randomized bits would be a step down. Human brains are much more efficient than computers and build knowledge in a unique way.
How, you ask? Three ways in particular:
Living with a computer-like memory might seem simpler, but the relational organization of our brains gives us a leg up: We find not only the information we’re looking for, but also related memories that flesh out the topic and help us make better use of it. And because our memories are “consolidated” or connected to other memories, we can use various cues to pull up the information we’re looking for. The more complex and intertwined the memory becomes, the more cues it will have and the more accessible it will be. Each time we practice retrieving a memory, we reinforce its importance and add new context and complexity.
How can we use these non-computerlike characteristics of human memory to remember more of what we’ve learned? Check back for part two of our brain blog: Don’t Fight Your Brain.