Last night I dreamed that I had a tip of the tongue experience. Tip of the tongue states are situations where you forget some piece of information, but have a strong sense that you actually know it. Often the information comes to you later in the absence of any outside reminder, strong evidence that the information was there all along.
In my dream, I could not recall the name of a university administrator I was meeting with. I experienced it just like a real TOT state. On waking, I not only remembered the dream, but I also had no problem recalling the administrator’s name. The TOT experience was completely confined to my dream.
This reminds me a bit of the phenomenon of state dependent memory, where a person’s physiological state serves as a memory cue. For example, some people will learn a fact well drunk, forget it when sober, but recall it again when inebriated. This was a central plot point in Chaplain’s film, City Lights.
By the way, I am much more impressed by someone who recites pi with eyes closed than by someone wearing a blindfold, since blindfolds can be easily gimmacked.
By all accounts Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is a talented neurosurgeon. But he seems to be surprisingly ill informed about modern memory science:
…on Monday, he told a factually wrong parable about the brain. Specifically, Carson said, the brain was incapable of forgetting and could be electrically stimulated into perfect recall — a statement that, even though made by one of the most famous former neurosurgeons alive, was far more fiction than science.
It came in an anecdote meant to motivate the federal employees, a bit Carson developed on the public speaking circuit. He described the brain’s surprising power as a way to show the audience that they were more capable than they believed.
Except his description did not hit the mark. “It remembers everything you’ve ever seen. Everything you’ve ever heard. I could take the oldest person here, make a little hole right here on the side of the head,” Carson said, circling his left temple with a finger, “and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus and stimulate. And they would be able to recite back to you, verbatim, a book they read 60 years ago. It’s all there. It doesn’t go away. You just have to learn how to recall it.”
Here’s the story in the Washington Post.
The insinuation that Carson could zap a patient into reciting, from cover to cover, a book read in 1957 was not true, experts said.
“Using electrodes placed in the human brain to implant memories or to recall forgotten memories is simply not possible at this time,” Darin Dougherty, a psychiatrist and the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s neurotherapeutics division, told Gizmodo.
Dan Simons, a University of Illinois psychologist who studies attention and memory, told Wired that Carson’s claim was “utter nonsense.” Simons said it failed on nearly all counts: Humans cannot recall large swaths of text unless memorized for that purpose. Doctors cannot force patients to remember anything in crystal detail, even with deep brain stimulation. No human brain holds within it “a perfect and permanent record of our experiences,” the psychologist said.
A good example of how to use a memory palace:
In his famous book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes mentions his experiments on learning in mimosa plants. I found this fascinating and always wish he had provided more detail. Now a paper published in Nature points to evidence that plants are capable of associative learning. From the abstract:
Here we show that this type of learning occurs in the garden pea, Pisum sativum. By using a Y-maze task, we show that the position of a neutral cue, predicting the location of a light source, affected the direction of plant growth. This learned behaviour prevailed over innate phototropism. Notably, learning was successful only when it occurred during the subjective day, suggesting that behavioural performance is regulated by metabolic demands. Our results show that associative learning is an essential component of plant behaviour. We conclude that associative learning represents a universal adaptive mechanism shared by both animals and plants.
I just came across this review of my book. Many thanks to The Art of Memory.
There is also a lengthy summary in the comments.