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7.3.3. How We Think: Memory Patterns


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 7. How The Brain Works > 7.3. How We Think: Patterns of the Mind > 7.3.3. How We Think: Memory Patterns

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Memory patterns

When we commit something to memory, it is held as a potential pattern, a burning of a pathway across the brain. This is basically how we learned our multiplication tables: as we repeat “two times two is four” the pattern gets burned deeper and deeper each time until all we need to hear is “two times two..” for the start of the pattern to be found and “ four” is simply a continuation to completion.

Things get a little more complex when we visually recognise a friend. When remember a person’s face or any other object, we do not remember it just as a fixed block of colours, but as a pattern. Seeing Jane with our stereoscopic vision, from multiple viewpoints, we remember the pattern formed by the relative sizes and positions of her major features. We can then still recognise her when her face is distorted into different expressions, when viewed from different angles and even when she is partially obscured, such as when she is standing behind a lamp post.

Fig. 7.5 Thought patterns

You can easily test this. Think of someone you know well. Now try to recall the detailed shape of their mouth or nose. Then go and look at them to test your memory: the chances are that you will not be entirely accurate, even though you may have known them for many years.

This is also why children draw people with large eyes and stick bodies: they are drawing the pattern they are perceiving, rather than the actual visual image. Even as adults, our pattern memories prevent us from drawing what is really there unless we are taught to look beyond our clever, but limiting system of mental patterns to the real patterns of hue, contrast and light.

The ability to remember facts is often associated with intelligence, but such activity simply involves saving and recalling patterns. Creativity is a different kettle of fish, as this requires us to create new patterns, new and original thoughts. Although creativity increases with intelligence (possibly due to increasing ability to use our brain), it is not unknown for it to drop off at higher levels of intelligence as experts become trapped by predefined systems of knowledge and reasoning.

In the end, we only have two things we can use to innovate: the mental patterns, the grooves of thought and experience, stored in our memories and the way in which we manipulate them. Manipulation also requires mental patterns of thought, and this book aims to give you those thoughts so you can use what you already know to invent what you really want.


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