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August 4, 2020

"Now I Remember" Moments

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Have you ever had one of the moments where you know that you know something, but you just can’t produce it? That “its on the tip of my tongue” kind of phenomena? Maybe you’re trying to remember someone’s name, or the title of a song, or a common knowledge trivia question that you’re sure you’ve been exposed to.

You think on it and you don’t make any progress until all of a sudden POOF you remember it clear as day, like you’ve known it all along. How does that happen? 

In order to understand we need to talk about memory. There are 2 types of memory - working / short term memory (while something is on your mind) and long term memory (something that encodes in your brain and can be recalled). Different bits of information are encoded to different levels and can be recalled with variable ease.

One of these levels is called episodic memory. This is when something major, what was labeled as most important, encodes in your brain. However, other details around the event aren’t encoded with the same complexity and therefore can’t be recalled as easily. That’s why we easily remember the emotional experience of the song lyrics we liked the most, but can have a hard time remembering the artist.

So what we do is we use episodic memory to simulate the environment and prompt our brain into recalling more details around the event. And that’s why it can take a bit of time, because you need to think through the memory, trigger word, or experience that is the gate to the information you are seeking. It's the very reason why you can think through something for a long time, make no progress on it, leave it for a bit, return to it and discover your answer! It’s because you gave yourself the time to come upon new possible events or memories that included the detail you are trying to recall.

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