Is Trust the Answer to Your Short-Term Memory Loss

concentration and focusI think I’m more forgetful these days. Names, next steps, appointments; calls to return, to-do’s.

Is it due to age? Perhaps; every year I seem to get 365 days older.

Is it due to the complexity of the world? These days, 6 degrees of separation is so five minutes ago. It’s at least down to 4 degrees, closing in on 3.

Is it the ubiquity of mechanized devices to substitute for memory? Could be: kids who learn math on calculators forget how to do addition, and with wireless to-do lists integrating with everything, we have no good reason to exercise our memory muscles—maybe they atrophy?

Maybe. But there’s another explanation.

My doctor put it this way:

The brain circuitry for cognition is fairly complex. Before you can talk about memory, you have to talk about the whole process that precedes it.

If memory is flawed, sure, your memory recall capability can be to blame. But so can your memory storage capability—perhaps it slowly degrades.

Further back in the chain, maybe the storage placement function is to blame—memories are getting stored in the wrong places.

But most likely [says my doctor] it’s that the event was only weakly impressed on us in the first place. The photo was under-exposed. The signal to noise ratio was too low.

In other words, if you’re not paying full attention in the first place, your memory recall is doomed from the outset.

Multi-Tasking is Mugging My Memory

I think he may be right. Multi-tasking may be mugging my memory. I certainly see that happening in others—sitting in classes with blackberries and open laptops. Texting and phoning; reading and watching TV and texting.

A close friend made the same suggestion to me just a few days ago. Since then I’ve been making half-hearted efforts at stopping my multi-tasking addiction, and what I’ve discovered is–I’m pretty hooked.

Interestingly, paying attention is also at the heart of trust. Trust is inherently a relationship: a relationship between one who trusts, and one who is trusted.

At the heart of any relationship is the attention that must be paid, one to another. If attention is high, the relationship is strong. If it’s weak, then so is the relationship.

Why Focus is Central to Trust and to Memory

What is it about paying attention that makes it critical to both memory and to trust? I think it is the same phenomenon. Relationships, like events, only make impressions on us if we are open to them.

If I’m not paying attention to you, you can’t make an impression on me. And of course I won’t trust you. Which means you will not be trusted, and I will miss out on the experience of trusting. Bad stuff all around.

But if I pay attention to you, I will notice things about you, as well as being open to you. I may come to trust you; and you, being noticed by me, may behave in a more trustworthy manner. We allow ourselves to be paid attention to. Good stuff all around.

I think I’ll start small; batch processing email rather than staying constantly on the grid. Cold turkey is kind of frightening.

Who knew that fixing my multi-tasking might help my memory as well as my relationships?

I’ll keep you posted. If I remember.

The Mathematics of Age and Wisdom

Time goes faster as we get older.

This makes intuitive sense if you assume time has a subjective flavor, in addition to an objective meaning. A year at age 10 is a tenth of one’s live; at age 50, it’s only 2% of one’s life. The rate of passage of time, measured by our perception of change, indeed increases.

Now apply that concept to age and wisdom. How much wiser is a 60-year old person than a 20-year old person? Three times wiser?
I would argue at least a multiple of six. If not more. Here’s how.

Let’s define wisdom in a narrow, simple way: the ability to perceive patterns from the data of life. And I don’t mean book-data. Any young trader on Wall Street can cite statistics about past bear markets. But the old traders will tell you, until you’ve been through one, you’ll behave stupidly when presented with it the first time.

A 20-year old person has seen 20 years of life. A 60-year old person has seen 3 times that much. Without complicating the math, the oldster has got 3 times more direct experience—more data from which to mine patterns.

But add subjectivity. A 60-year old has not only his or her own life at close hand, but the prior 60 or so years take on a new light. They become more accessible.

Born in 1950, World War II seemed impossibly distant for me at age 10. After all, it had started more than a lifetime ago—for me. At age 40, I was shocked that college freshmen viewed the Vietnam War as similarly distant. Like all boomers—veterans especially—the passage of time has brought those two wars much closer together.

My son, who is now 19, met my grandmother, who lived to 100. She listened to Civil War stories, first-hand, at the feet of soldiers who fought it. That’s one degree of separation from the Civil War to a PS3 gamer.

Yet that feels less remarkable to me now than it used to. I can now envision the 1920s far more easily than previously; but the 1890s still feel quite beyond my grasp.

So here’s my mathematical rule of wisdom: you can mine the history of 2x your age for wisdom.

Thank god wisdom doesn’t depend much on memory. That seems to work in the other direction.