Normal recall is aided by two main factors – uniqueness and associations. For example, if you are asked to memorize a list of nonsense syllables and one of them is made of numbers rather than letters, you will more easily recall that „odd“ one. Likewise, if you can associate a picture, a sound, an idea, or a smell with any of those syllables, that too will make it easier to recall. The importance of both uniqueness and associations is that they allow a piece of information to be more easily distinguished from the mass of potential memory.
One type of association – emotional – is particularly important. If the emotion is positive, the stronger the emotion, the easier the recall, but if the emotion is negative, the relationship is not so simple. Up to a point, negative (or painful) emotions also enhance recall, but if the unpleasantness associated with a particular memory is so strong that to remember plunges you back into the experience of that emotion, your mind will often try to prevent recall by erecting a block against that memory. Your mind, however, can’t do this by simply preventing recall of only that memory. The problem is that such a precise block would be like a silhouette – its precision would give away the memory it was attempting to hide. To be effective, memory blocks need to cast a broad shadow that obscures not only the particular painful memory, but also many of the associative trails that could lead to it.
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, proposed a radical new interpretation of memorizing. He linked the longstanding biological problems of form with similar problems in areas as diverse as crystal growth and psychology. He has proposed plausible rules for how morphogenetic fields might behave. To understand his theory, it helps to begin in the strange world of quantum mechanics. At the beginning of this century it became clear that sub- atomic particles – electrons, protons, x-rays, etc. – behave as if they are both particles (bundles of mass/energy) and waves (spread in time and space). The wave aspect carries no energy but strongly influences how the particle aspect can behave. Translated into biologist’s terms, the wave can be seen as the morphogenetic field for the particle. Sheldrake takes this step and then goes further to suggest that larger forms, like biological organisms, have morphogenetic fields that are more than just the sum of their parts. These fields carry no energy but influence (in perhaps the same way the quantum fields do) the form the parts take as they come together.
The fields and the physical forms are intimately associated in that any existing form gives rise to (in a sense radiates) a field that then contributes to shaping subsequent similar forms. Sheldrake suggests that these fields are not diminished by passage across time and space (since they carry no energy), and that like gravitational fields, they only add to each other. Thus every place is „filled“ with the morphogenetic fields from all past forms.
Our brains, like any other physical form, are constantly generating morphogenetic fields, not only for the general form of the brain, but also for each moment of our existence. Sheldrake suggests that this continuous trail of experience – recorded in the morphogenetic fields – is at least part of the basis for memory. We recall a past state by having some initial pattern of associations that acts as a „seed,“ allowing us to tune in that particular memory. As the memory begins to be tuned in, it influences the brain to fill in more of the pattern which, in a feedback process, improves the resonance until the essential features of the past state are recreated in the present. These ideas fit very well with the observations that retention seems to be so complete and so effortless (we can’t help leaving our mental „morphogenetic trail“), and why multiple associations and uniqueness aid recall (since these improve the precision of our tuning).
But the big implication of this approach is that memory is transpersonal. These mental morphogenetic fields are not locked in your brain, but are available throughout all space and all future time!
„Yet if memory is truly transpersonal,“ you may say, „why don’t I remember other people’s thoughts?“ The answer to this is two-fold. First, you naturally resonate most strongly with your own past states, so most people find that their clear, detailed memories are from their own past. The other part is that we often don’t recognize (or acknowledge) the transpersonal aspects in what we remember.
If memory is indeed transpersonal, does this mean that we don’t need to go through the effort of learning? Can we just „tune in“ to what others already know? It is not quite that simple. You have to have the basic elements of a pattern already available in your mind before you can tune to that pattern – the more detailed the pattern the richer your preparation needs to be. The best method seems to be to approach the learning process from two directions at the same time. On the one hand, the learner needs to be immersed in those experiences that will build up the necessary elements on which the learning is based. On the other, the learner can benefit from activities that help him/her to attune to the existing field. Intriguingly, most of these seem to involve the „broad brush stroke“ fast pattern recognition capacity of the right brain.