Lex Fridman on human memory

2024-06-02 14:27:00 +07:00 by Mark Smith

The human brain and mind is something we are intimately aware of yet we take it for granted since they mediate our every action in the world. It's important to be aware of thought dynamics that arise, but without getting too caught up in it. It's especially relevant when you make a living primarily using your brain.

I previously wrote about some memory and perception issues I had while reading. That was a kind of difficult piece to write about, but it helped me understand more fully how my mind works. It's possible that it improved the situation somewhat, but to be honest it's not something I've thought about much since writing the piece.

With that in mind, I really enjoyed Lex Fridman's recent podcast interview with memory researcher and expert Charan Ranganath. There's so much to learn from their discussion to help demistify the grey matter in between your ears, in that skull we all carry around everywhere.

Memory weirdnesses are just part of being human, even if they can be a bit embarrassing and confusing. The way we think about the brain and mind has changed dramatically, even since I was young. These are no longer taboo topics. I think that's great, and this progress has been possible in part by people freely sharing their experiences.

I thought these two stories from Lex were particulatly interesting and fun. I have similar things that have happened to me.

The first is all about how our brains remember things in very strange ways sometimes. It's not like a button you press, like with electronics or a computer, it's more like our brains have a mind of their own, and actually, they do!

I remember, a good friend of mine Joe Rogan. I was on his podcast, we were randomly talking about soccer…football…somebody I grew up watching, Diego Armando Maradona, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, and we were talking about him and his career and so on, and Joe asked me if he was still around, and I said ‘yeah’. I don’t know why I thought yeah.

That was a perfect example of memories. He passed away, I tweeted about it, how heart broken I was, all this kind of stuff, like a year before. I know this, but in my mind, I went back to the thing I’ve done many times in my head, visualising some of the epic runs he had on goal, and so on, so for me he’s alive. And also, part of the conversation when you are talking with Joe, there’s stress, and the focus is allocated, the attention is allocated in a particular way. But when I walked away, I was like, "in which world was Diego Maradona still alive?

Because I was sure, in my head that he was still alive. It’s a moment that sticks with me. I’ve had a few like that in my life. Obvious things…like, disappear from mind. And it’s cool. It shows the power of the mind in a positive sense, to erase memories you want erased, maybe. But I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s a good explanation for that. (01:01:44)

The second story is a reminder that our life situation, and that of others has a big impact on how our brains work. That's to be expected, we are shaped by the things we do day in day out:

There’s a good percentage of time I personally live in the imagined world. I do thought experiments a lot […] sometimes it’s rigorous thought experiments, sometimes it’s fun ones. I imagine that has an effect on how I remember things. And I suppose I have to be a little bit careful to make sure stuff happened vs stuff that I just imagined happened.

And also, some of my best friends are characters inside books, that never even existed. There’s some degree to which they actually exist in my mind. (01:09:37)

Both these stories cheered me up a bit, so I figured I'd share them here. It's a great conversation, worth spending the time to listen to the whole episode.

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