Friday, October 26, 2012

Ask-a-Dude: Memory Edition!

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another edition of Ask-a-Dude!

Remember, you can ask your own questions using the submission form on the right!

Today's question is:

Q: How can my boyfriend remember the entire Denver Broncos starting lineup but forget my birthday? 

A: In his defense, if you were known for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the waning minutes of game play, he might remember a lot more about you.

I'm not suggesting you become an NFL team in order to make your guy have better recall. Unless that's an option. Because, seriously, the only way science could create a more perfect male fantasy is by putting boobs on a beer can.

Side note: isn't it odd that the expression "as useful as boobs on a beer can" means exactly the opposite to women as it does to men?

But I digress.

Where was I? Damn, I just had it, too. It was something about birthdays and guys and how we never remember. . . 

Ah, yes. Memory.

Memory is a fickle she-beast. And I do mean "she" because studies indicate that gender affects memory. Science tells us that women are simply better at remembering certain types of information. Without even checking the peer-reviewed journal Duh! where these findings were first published, I'm sure this is true. My wife can remember EVERY $@%! MISTAKE I'VE EVER MADE!

These studies show that woman are demonstrably better in the area of verbal episodic memory. These are memories associated closely with words (as opposed to images). For example, if she closely associates a friend's wedding with its memorably romantic vows, a woman is more likely than her boyfriend to accurately remember how many champagne flutes he drained before making a pass at the bride's mother.

But companion studies also point to men having better visual episodic memory. Again, referring to the scholarly No Doi Magazine, research reveals that guys have better recall when they mentally associate an event with your ass, er, I mean, something visual.

Perhaps these findings identify an avenue for helping your boyfriend remember your birthday. Or you could go with the tried and true, emotionally searing the date into his brain A Clockwork Orange style.

August. . .August something?

But eye-forceps are so expensive. Plus: eye boogers.

Thomas Harris, in his novel Hannibal, offers a suggestion based on male memory patterns. In this sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter remembers phone numbers, PIN codes, addresses and other tidbits of his victims' lives with perfect accuracy even while being incarcerated and having zero access to Facebook (Lecter's Relationship Status: Hungry).

It turns out that Lecter uses a technique called the Method of Loci to create a "memory palace" where he stores otherwise forgettable data points. Am I saying you should only date serial killers? No. But be honest. Wouldn't it be kinda nice if, the day after you told your new boyfriend about the bitchy salesclerk who brought you a size 12 when you distinctly remember asking for a size 8, the clerk went "missing?" You could savor this minor victory over the delicious lunch of meat medallions your awesome new boyfriend packed for you!

No? Moving on.

The Method of Loci encodes data points (a birthday or a phone number) on a familiar location (a childhood home or a favorite museum). If the location is familiar enough and the data point is encoded properly, all your boyfriend needs to do is walk into his memory palace, step into the room he's reserved for memories of you and then look at the appointed spot for the information he seeks.

Give it a try. Ask your boyfriend to remember a place he'll have no trouble navigating. It should have enough rooms that one can be dedicated exclusively to you. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOW HIM TO TELL YOU WHAT HE'S USING FOR HIS MEMORY PALACE! The last thing you want is to find out that the reason your boyfriend has become so good at remembering what kind of flowers your mom likes is because he's been encoding memories about you in this memory palace:

Why so mad, baby? I put all your memories in the VIP room.
Okay, now that he's chosen a memory palace he knows well, ask your boyfriend to take your birthdate and use it to create a visual image. It can be anything, a picture, a sculpture, a lewd soap carving. The more outrageous the image, the more likely he is to remember it. Again, it is very important HE DOES NOT SHARE HIS IMAGE WITH YOU! Would you still date him if you found out this was his visual image for your January birthday?

Ponies help Bronies remember
No. You wouldn't. It's okay to have some secrets.

So your boyfriend has taken your birthday, let's say it's March 3rd, and turned it into an image of a marching band walking in lock-step over the edge of a giant number 3 and falling into a huge bowl of red velvet cake batter which explodes into a shower of Pandora Bracelet charms.

Boom. Birthdate? Encoded! Cake preference? Encoded! Gift idea which you only mentioned a million times and was pictured in the local jeweler's catalog he found in his By The Power of Grayskull! t-shirt where you knew he wouldn't miss it? Encoded.  

Now, all he has to do is take that image and install it in the Hey, Gurl room of his memory palace, which is a mental image of a place he knows better than any other (like his mother's smothering cloak of maternal obsession and all its many pockets - you know it's true).

You're probably thinking this is hard work and that it's unlikely your boyfriend will put this kind of effort into remembering something that's important to you when he can barely be counted on to remember how much you HATE it when he farts in bed and yells "Dutch oven!" But that's kinda the point. Yes, the visual cues play into his neuro-evolutionary adaptation to survival. But the process of making an effort is also key. Just trying is half the battle.

Tell him what's important to you and then try to help him remember it by introducing him to these mnemonic techniques. Honestly, you don't really have another option.

It's not like science has come up with a personal device that can easily store and retrieve information, one with a calendar function and multiple yearly alarms capable of alerting the user to upcoming birthdays and special occasions. That would be awesome, right, if such sorcery existed? But it would have to be portable and rechargeable. And even then, you'd still have to convince your boyfriend to carry it every where, every day.

Yeah, you keep living in your robotopia, with its nuclear bed sheets and farms animals made of algae.

I'll just sit here holding my breath for that bit of vaporware to show up in the pages of How to Use a Phone, for Dumwads Magazine.

Copil writes for No Sh!t, Sherlock, the journal of information that everyone knows but insists isn't true until it appears in print. He can also be found on Twitter (@Copil).


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