The Human Brain is Awesome

April 15, 2008 at 8:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in 625 Elm Street

Just a few days ago I asked The Missus, rhetorically, “Can a person form a memory of something he doesn’t have the capability to describe?” In particular, I wondered if one of the reasons we don’t remember much about our childhoods is that we lack the language necessary to describe it to ourselves. If I as a one year-old can’t encode my perceptions of that thing in any coherent way, how can I later recall those perceptions in any useful form?

Today The Missus and Robbie (sort of) conducted an experiment. It was opening day at the zoo, and being such a nice (if windy) day, they just had to go. The Missus and I wondered if Robbie would remember anything at all about the zoo. After all, his last visit was when he was 17-months old, roughly six months ago. He had almost no vocabulary then; I think the only relevant word he knew six months ago was “doggy”, which he used to describe any animal with four legs.

So color me shocked when The Missus told me that not only did Robbie remember the zoo, he called out “Train! Train!” as they pulled into the driveway and before he had seen (or heard) the train. In other words, he remembered an aspect of the zoo that he didn’t have a word for the last time he saw it. He had stored a memory of the train in a way that was useful enough to him that he could give it a name as the memory rushed back. Six months later, despite all of the zillions of additional bits of knowledge and memories he has created in the mean time, Robbie managed to take a fuzzy memory of an object, associate it with the visual image of his current location, and come up with the correct word to describe the object.

I don’t know about you, but that fascinates the crap out of me.

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The Comments

West A Dad April 15, 2008 at 9:37pm

Fascinates me too.  My son can remember the most obscure things but can’t remember to lift the toilet seat every time.

Karin Dalziel April 16, 2008 at 3:13pm

What is it with kids and trains? Every toddler I know is absolutely fascinated by them. My sister’s kid is nuts about them, as evidenced by this video: http://vimeo.com/203139

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