I boarded the waiting cab and was contentedly on my way to the airport. I wouldn’t have gone any further than a Km when, unable to remember something, I broke out into cold sweat. I just couldn’t remember whether I had locked the main door of my apartment. I could recollect having closed windows, turning of the gas stove but, darn me, I just couldn’t recollect if I had locked the main door. I had to call the security guard to quickly run upstairs to my apartment and check if the door was indeed locked or not!
I was to travel to a nearby city. Just few days before the trip, while buying a consumer electronic item I got a silver coin as part of a promotional offer and kept the coin in my wallet (no good reason why). I thought it would be better if I left the coin at home and went on my trip. I removed the coin from my wallet and left it on my work table at home. It was a one night stay at the city that I was visiting. Before I fell asleep in my hotel room that night, for some reason, I thought to myself ‘I have left the silver coin on my hotel room table and I need to ensure I keep it back into my wallet next day morning before I check out’! Needless to say I broke out into cold sweat next day morning as I could not find the silver coin on the table at the hotel!
My friend had finished buying some gifts for friends and relatives. There were no surprises in the bill; however when it came to punching in the PIN for payment by debit card, my friend couldn’t remember the PIN at all. He failed repeatedly as he attempted to recollect what it was. I had to divert his attention and then ask him to just punch in the number pad without thinking. Lo! He got the right PIN punched in
The obvious reaction to the above is ‘you are growing old’ or ‘birds of same feather flock together’. Undeniably these observations are true, but not the only truths that exist. Once things like these are stated people tend to come up with innovative advises like, reduce alcohol consumption or even, get married! Needless to say that some advises I have headed to and some I have not. However, it is interesting to delve into this matter, atleast to figure out if I am the odd one out or if I am in bad company.
Unsettled and disturbed, I did some empirical research by sending questionnaires to a few of my friends. The questionnaire asked them about situations such as the ones mentioned above and asked if they had faced any or all of them. 100% of the respondents indicated they had definitely experienced atleast one of the mentioned situations and more than 70% indicated they had experienced more than one of them. About 40% said they had experienced all of those. I chose people of various age groups and backgrounds to ensure we are not talking about senility or mental disturbance. After seeing the response, needless to say, I did heave a sigh of relief!
These incidents, seemingly, happen often to us in our day to day lives. They also form the core of researching consciousness. As discussed in an earlier blog, memory is the key factor in deciding the contents of Consciousness. I think in each of the incidents mentioned at the beginning of this post, the memory seems to have transitioned from being an intentional aware memory to being an unaware memory. This I think is synonymous with muscle memory. In other words, the brain outsources the memory that doesn’t need any processing to the muscles. Hence often when we want to intentionally and with full awareness want to remember certain things that we do routinely, we fail to perform those acts. A car driver or a player of a musical instrument would know what I am talking about. In each of the above incidents the muscle memory was sufficient to carry out the required activity and needed no active processing by the brain, however when the memory was attempted to be recalled with full awareness of the brain, it couldn’t retrieve the unaware memory at all!