Six second memory

flirtycleo1“You’re in goldfish mode again, aren’t you?”

My brain-injured son looks smug. I raise my eyes to the heavens. He’s right, I have completely forgotten half the things he just asked me to do. He takes a great and unholy delight in what he calls my six-second memory, especially when he shouldn’t have one at all.

The goldfish is famed for the shortness of its memory… though you wouldn’t think so to see my son’s fish react to the sound of footsteps and the food jar. In fact new studies suggest they can recall things for up to five months. Perhaps what they do is discard the unnecessary to ‘make room’ for the needful. Which isn’t a bad thing to do.

I forget a lot of things. Not because of poor memory, but simply because they don’t capture my attention, having no emotional impact or intellectual appeal…because I have no affinity for them… or simply because I no longer need to remember what technology does better than I and even the memory gets lazy. Or perhaps it is simply freed for more important or more interesting things… things with which we engage and which capture our attention.


My son and I often talk about the vagaries of memory.
“It wasn’t a lie, they were telling the truth as they remembered it.”
“But that doesn’t make it true.”
“It makes it their truth…”
“But not necessarily the truth.”

Memory is a fickle thing. We will not recall what we had for lunch on this day ten years ago… but we will remember that holiday, that special occasion, that wonderful day… Yet we can only remember things through the filters of our own emotions and understanding at the time. Even when logic, in later years, refuses to accept that there really was a monster in the wardrobe, the child in us recalls the memory and shudders. Or perhaps we believed in Narnia and still open the wardrobe with illogical hope.

Just a few years ago my work was office based as a transport manager. The telephones required you to input numbers, scores of them every day as you liaised with suppliers, customers, other transport companies and your own fleet of drivers. It was more energy and time efficient to know their numbers than to look them up every time, so remember them you did. It is not so long ago, but I haven’t been in contact with any of those people since that time. I couldn’t remember one of those numbers now… or for that matter any of the scores of personal numbers I once knew in the days before cell phones became part of our lives. But I could still tell you about the people I talked to, all about their spouses and children… which one played badminton, which had a rescue dog, whose son was doing so well at school… all the personal details that were shared over that faceless phone as we talked. Their phone numbers were essential for the job, but it was the people who touched the heart, sense of humour and mind, and it is they who remain long after the details have gone.


“It’s like having your own walking Wikipedia…”

My son looks disgusted… my turn to look smug, having just imparted another bit of dredged-up information gleaned over the years. It really is incredible how much our memories hold. Most of the time we don’t even realise it is memory in action. We think of memories as encapsulated moments, events or sequences from the past, yet everything we know, from the simplest word, to the cake recipe… from the way to get from here to there, to the basics like how to flick the light switch… it is all memory. All learned behaviour.

And so are we. Memory can be abstract too, so we learn to react in certain ways to certain situations, we learn where there is joy or pleasure and can seek it out, or where there is possible pain so we can avoid it. Physically and emotionally. We learn when we can be ourselves and at ease and when to don the social masks behind which we hide, both from the prying eyes of the world and from ourselves. Our personalities begin building themselves from our memories right from the start and it is memory that carries us through our days and all our relationships with those around us. Which is why the degeneration of memory is such a tragedy.

Yet memory alone is not enough. The ancients knew it, and in the Norse mythology Odin is known as the raven-god, as the two birds, Huginn and Muninn, fly from him every day across the world, and bring him knowledge. “Huginn and Muninn fly each day over the spacious earth. I fear for Huginn, that he come not back, yet more anxious am I for Muninn,” says Odin in the Grímnismál. Huginn means thought; Muninn memory… or mind.

Yet what is it that they fly back to? What is it in us that has mind, thought, memory? We are not these things… all may seemingly be taken from us by age, accident or infirmity. Yet even then there is a something that remains, a something that is us. Something which is the raw material upon which thought and memory build a structure, a vehicle for who we truly are.

Perhaps the myth of Odin holds more than a clue, for he is the raven god because of his association with these birds. They serve him by bringing him what they have found, memory and mind, a knowledge which, when combined, may become understanding. When we take the elements of our experience, our thoughts and memories, our acquired responses and transmute them into something higher and deeper than observation or reaction, what is it in us that can do this? It is, I think, that echo of the divine that flames within us, the flame of Being that holds and is held by the vessel we think of as ourselves.

Goldfish or Raven? Perhaps we need to be both.

flirtycleo2Images Cleo from Disney’s Pinocchio

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in Brain injury, Memory, Motherhood and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Six second memory

  1. Wonderful first person on memory, Sue – and science is little help, still, answering our questions about what makes us who we are. For all they have discovered about memory, they’re still not sure WHY it evolved the way it did and works the way it does – with pieces of it tucked hither and yon upstairs, reconstructed anew every time we recall a moment in time or a procedure we must repeat, even if we do so often.

    Yours works like mine, btw – I forever recall the stories that make people human. Names, faces, dates, numbers – they slip off my radar almost immediately.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another excellent post Sue.
    Like you I would remember phone numbers of customers, addresses and post codes, and also family birthdays and anniversaries without the need to look them up.
    Not so now. I think this is how it is for my Mum, she has little flashbacks but can’t put them into perspective. Faces are familiar yet nameless, so probably why she can get so frustrated and angry at herself sometimes.
    These days I remember dogs names and their stories, but not their owners, and if I see the owner without their dog, I’m likely to walk straight by. Association I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoyable and informative read, Sue. 🙂 — Suzanne


  4. jenanita01 says:

    I am having a battle royal with my own memory at the moment. Things I thought I could recall, have receded just enough to make no sense at all, and right when it is important for me to remember. My latest WIP depends upon it!


  5. Bun Karyudo says:

    That was an interesting post, Sue. Our member is an amazing thing, although having said that, I’ve always been shockingly forgetful. I’m definitely more goldfish than raven. Still, I do remember my brother and I looking around hopefully in the back of our parents’ wardrobe for a secret door. (Honestly!) Surprisingly, we didn’t find one, though. 🙂


  6. Thought and memory…such different entities, Odin had it right. I am fascinated by the details of long-term memory that can be recalled as we age, and the diminishing short-term memory. You’re so right about the emotional connection…numbers, dates fail by comparison.
    A line that will remain with me the most… “It wasn’t a lie, they were telling the truth as they remembered it.” Great post, Sue.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      That particular line says an awfu lot about how we view our lives, bth at the time we live it and in retrospect. The emotional filters of experience change how two people can see and remember the same event very differently.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Faces, names, and numbers get lost in a fog to me but a voice or a personal story remain vivid and present. Interesting post, Sue. I used to remember all kinds of numbers I wasn’t aware I knew. Funny, what stays with you when that’s part of your life (like a previous job many years ago).
    Just got a new cordless phone (hate it o_O ) and haven’t input all my numbers. Have a list of them. Do you think I can remember one? Nope.


  8. Rae Longest says:

    This is simply so well done–so well written–and so true!


  9. A lovely post on memory, Sue. I can remember whole sections of Company law and listings regulations and can write whole publications on foreign direct investment into developing countries but when I get to the auto bank I can’t remember my pin number – isn’t that totally annoying. I forgot my pin for my credit card in the toy shop one day and had to phone my husband to come and pay – the cashier thought I was completely mad.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      It really is weird the things that stick…and the things we forget. All my phone numbers are in my phone… I never have to dial them any more. I can remember my sons’ numers…but can I recall my own??


  10. Eliza Waters says:

    Less and less seems to stick these days, perhaps it’s a winnowing, of holding onto only the most important. And with age and wisdom, we see how little really IS important!


  11. Lovely post, Sue. I think my brain gets full and I have to pick and choose what I store in there now. A lot of stuff has spilled out and continues to spill out to make room for more. That’s why I can’t remember all the trivial information that orders my life. But I do agree that memory makes us who we are and loss of memories is one of the saddest parts of aging for some. Beautiful thoughts, thanks for sharing.


  12. Widdershins says:

    The older I get the more philosophical I get about my memory … ** gazes out the window at the rain** (yep I now have a yard full of water) … erm … what were we talking about? 😀


  13. willowdot21 says:

    did you say something !


  14. noelleg44 says:

    Wonderful post, Sue. It certainly applies to learning a language – I become fairly fluent in one while I was living in that world, and have completely forgotten it now – except for when I need to think of a word in French or Spanish. Then the other one comes to the fore. I thought for a long time that as we age, we have to discard memories to make room for more – sounded sort of stupid,but then I learned that this is can actually happen. Like Madelyn, I am also face blind, especially if I see the person in a different place than usual., but I have a canny knack for remembering voices.


  15. I have one of these, lol. My children as well call me on it all the time. I’m simply busy at the moment thinking of what’s before me, not what is off to the edge.


  16. adeleulnais says:

    I have a theory that all our memories are there but that like our house, a spring clean is sometimes required. If we sweep away, for instance, the channel number of a program then we make room for an older more important memory to re surface. Like re booting your computer. Also, I agree with the theory of ancestor memories, they are there waiting to be accessed.


  17. I am hopeless at remembering certain things, but like you, I think it is because they don’t hold any interest or attraction for me!


  18. I wouldn’t MIND raven, but I think I’m right in there, solidly and completely goldfish. I only remember exactly what is in front of me. And only as long as I’m looking at it.


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