Why Does Part of My Memory Seem to Work Like ROM?

By which I mean ‘read only memory’. I’ll tell you what happened.

A couple of years ago, it just popped into my head. ‘Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto’. Our nine planets. Or what was assumed to be our nine planets when I memorized it presumably in the early 70’s in grade school.

The only thing is, I don’t remember memorizing it. How did it get stuck in my head like that?

Or ‘kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species’. I do remember memorizing that. I was in my Sophomore year in high school. And it is the Latin nomenclature for plants and animals. But still, how did it stick in my mind so well? And is there a name as well as an explanation for this type of memory?


I would guess that the brain has specific mechanisms or techniques for applying order to the chaos of reality by listing things as belonging to classes.

It may be that it does this by storing a given class of things in some order so that each member of the class triggers a memory of the next member. As a side effect this allows us to memorize ordered lists.

That’s purely a guess.

Mnemonics. A simple ordered list is one of the easiest things to memorize just through frequent repetition and reinforcement, without employing any fancy tricks. The explanation is the way memory is built out of neural networks.

I teach English in Taiwan, and there is an art to using mnemonics to aid the memorization of something, such as a foreign language, but without the brain becoming overly dependent on that mnemonic in order to retrieve the information.

Students can recite vocabulary words in a set order, but it’s harder to recall them when they aren’t in order. Not using an order makes it more difficult to initially memorize them.

My memory seems to work like an old fashioned computer centre. Give it a question, and the answer is given an hour later. Yep, seriously does that happen to you? Some drones have to find tapes and mount them before you get your answer.

I’ve had that experience - where somebody asks a question, or just plain old mentions something, and my own personal input comes back bit by bit.

I experienced something similar with French. I took French in school, way back in the late '50s. I hadn’t spoken or heard it for 50 years, until I went to Paris in 1999. Once I was surrounded by the language, I was amazed at how many words came back to me. Not verb declensions nor genders, but basic vocabulary. It was enough to get me by for two weeks.

I also used mnemonics heavily when learning Japanese, and also used them when tutoring people in same language.

I used the mnemonic “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies” to memorize the planets. With the demotion of Pluto, it’s now, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nothing.”

Thanks a lot modern astronomy! :mad:

One of the most indelible memories I have from ninth grade is the names of the first sixteen US Presidents in order. The reason for this is that I not only used a mnemonic device, but it was a device that I invented on the spot (five minutes before the test) and I was very proud of myself for inventing it. That fact made it stick in my head for decades. But if you ask me who was the 11th President, I have to mentally zip through the first ten to tell you.

Likewise, when I learned the NATO alphabet, I quickly learned to say it in ABC order, just one day. But it took me a month to be able to look at, say, O and quickly say “Oscar” without first running through Alpha Bravo Charlie… in my head. When teaching it to other people, I have found a similar disconnect. They can rather quickly learn all the letters in order, but they can’t recall the information quickly enough to actually use it unless they practice a lot.

Yeah, this seems to be common with many people, and it always fascinates me as how to information is stored. The one that most often happens to me is that I can’t remember the name of a person or something, yet somehow, I will remember the letter it starts with. Or sometimes I go through the alphabet in my head and just by thinking of the letters one by one, eventually one will spark a memory of the information I’m searching for. I know this happens to a lot of people, but it’s really interesting to me that you can remember and retrieve the first letter (or syllable or sound-alike word) to what you’re looking for, but be unable to extract the rest of the information. (For example, the other day, I was at preschool trying to remember the name of one of the students’ mothers. All my brain could conjure up is that it begins with “J,” but could only think of “Julie,” but I knew it wasn’t Julie. It wasn’t until 20 minutes later that “Jill” came to me. Like how does my brain know it begins with “J” without having the rest of the information at hand?)

Much like a computer, dust-bunnies can interfere with cooling, leading to overheating and system failures.

For me it may not be the first letter, it’s frequently some letter in the middle that stands out for some reason or combination of letters and also number of syllables. It’s usually a fuzzy impression of these attributes, and then when I remember, the fuzzy impression was sometimes correct and sometimes only partially correct (e.g. wrong letter but correct number of syllables).
This whole process is really interesting. The brain has a handle on some concept, it “knows” what the thing is but can’t provide some additional details (e.g. the name). What’s weird is that we can get partial info that we’re pretty sure is at least in the ballpark, and more importantly, we know that all of the other words/names are wrong. And we know when we hear the correct answer.

It’s obviously a side-effect of our specific system, but if we were given these requirements and tried to build a system that operated this way, it’s seems to me like it would be pretty difficult. We could have a set of relationships, like a person and their name so we could check it to see if the guessed name was correct, but why not just go directly to the relationship to get the info. We would have to purposefully not allow going directly to the relationship and instead build some convoluted system that circles around it and, provides little glimpses and can only get at it through some other indirect path.

Oh, yeah, definitely not just the first letter, but that’s probably the most common for me. It can also be the size of the word, or, like you said, maybe some other random attributes like number of syllables, or even something weird like having two sets of doubled letters or being particularly vowel-heavy, etc. Basically, anything like that. Just an hour or so ago, my wife asked me if I remembered the name of a supper club, and my brain had it filed away as “I think it begins with an E and has 5 letters.” Sure enough, it was “Elias.”

Exactly, lots of different types of impressions of the word or partial attributes.

What really gets me is when, using your example, it IS Julie and you inner voiced your way away from it. Then, even when it is confirmed, it just doesn’t feel right.