I remember riding in a taxi several years ago and beginning a conversation with the driver about how I needed new car insurance. The driver recalled that he had an insurance policy in the glove compartment, and the policy had the number of his agent written on it.
I asked him to take out the policy and look at the phone number. He grabbed it – the insurance agent’s name and cell phone number were written on the back of the page.
One quick glance at the page was enough for me. The number ciphers were automatically encoded into visual images, so I turned away to create connections. I created an association with the first image that came to mind (an imaginary steering wheel) and connected the number figurative codes to it. The whole process took about three seconds. The phone number was before my eyes, and I was scrutinizing it (as a picture combination).
I did not pay any attention to the strange behaviour of the driver. Suddenly, he folded the page and put it in his pocket.
“Why are you messing around?” he growled.
“Pardon?” I snapped back.
“Do you need the number or not? Why on earth did you have me take it out?”
“Thanks,” I said, “I already memorized it – I have a good memory.”
“Sure. Lucky you!” he said, and then whistled as if I was insane.
To his surprise, I called his insurance agent from the taxi using my cell phone and spent about ten minutes discussing my car insurance options.
The driver seemed pensive; maybe I’d made him nervous. Both of us remained silent for the rest of the trip. I do not know what he was thinking, but I remember my thoughts.
I was thinking that the driver was contemplating his own memory capability. He must always have jotted numbers down and could not believe that someone could memorize a phone number after seeing it for one brief moment. How limited people’s opinions are about their natural abilities!
I suppose this could be said for more than just memory. Yet, if the driver knew I played saxophone or could walk on a high wire, he would not be surprised. So, why does phenomenal memory surprise people so much, and make them feel incomplete if they lack it? What is so special about it? Why is memory regarded as some extra-special ability? Why do people believe that they can train and exercise their muscles, but not their memory?
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