816 North

David Knopf | Sorting through the Costco-sized warehouse that is your brain

Updated: 2013-08-07T12:38:14Z


Special to The Star

I’ve been meaning to write about mnemonic devices for some time, but this week I finally remembered.

If you’re not up on these tools for jogging memory and impressing friends, family and co-workers, they’re very handy.

They’re especially useful for our demographic — newspaper-reading troglodytes who retain the flexibility and balance to get the paper from the driveway without taking a John Belushi pratfall.

You may not realize it, but you’ve been using mnemonics all your life. They can be as simple as tying a string on your finger or writing a reminder on your arm (“Pick up kid at juvy”), or as complex as setting up a Google calendar that sends you reminders to go to work and where your office is located.

I jest, of course, but this is a serious matter. I’ve learned to use these devices to amaze my family by remembering such key names as “Ben Harper,” a singer-songwriter who bridges the musical chasm that separates me from other family members

Remembering his name was easy once I employed the mnemonic device that “Ben” is shorthand for my son’s middle name, Benjamin. I think of my son, and Boom! I can remember Ben Harper and not have to use “You know, old what’s-his-name” in a sensitive social setting where my reputation is on the line.

All it takes is a little creativity and word association, two talents that even the relentless passing of time has yet to rip from these cold, dead brain cells.

Let’s say, for example, I forget my son’s middle name but am determined to come up with a mnemonic to remember “Ben Harper.” I could substitute “Ben Hur,” a movie about the early days of NASCAR, when drivers used chariots with wheel spikes to do battle at races like the Ramada Coliseum 500.

If I recall, one of the lead characters, Charlton Heston, also was once president of the NMA, the National Mnemonic Association. I’m a member thanks to the combined discount I get through AAA magazine and AARP.

We know that as we age, memory loss is inevitable due to plaque that builds up between brain cells that ordinarily “talk” to each other. In a young, plaque-free brain, these cells chatter away incessantly, while older brain receptors only fire well when they darn well feel like it, often a week to 10 days after the need arises.

Mnemonics can’t reverse natural aging, but they can go a long way toward helping us maintain a semblance of mental acuity. Think of the brain as a gray, bean-shaped super warehouse, a Costco-like organ capable of storing more information than the Library of Congress, Google and my wife combined.

As we age, we accumulate so much useless information that even a top “warehouseman” would be hard-pressed to locate and deliver something like the name “Ben Harper” within 24 hours, let alone instantly when it’s needed in a conversation.

That’s where mnemonics come in. Think of them as “cheat sheets” for the brain, tools that help me dig through all the other Bens in my life — Ben-Gurion, Ben Stiller, Ben E. King, Ben & Jerry’s — to the one that matters now, the one that can help me appear to have my head in the game and be playing with a full deck.

Putting “Ben Harper” on the tip of my tongue when I need it beats having it pop up a day later, when I’m asleep, dreaming of driving a chariot in that movie that starts with some B word and stars Ben Stiller as Dale Granatelli Jr.

Believe me, they’re indispensable down the stretch.

Have a mnemonic device to share with other readers? Pass it along to me at davidknopf48@gmail.com.

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