How Memory Works

Why You Can Memorize Scripture—Part 1

Memory is a fantastic function of the incredible brain that God created in man. All of the technology on earth has not produced anything close to its efficiency and capability. You wake up in the morning and your memory is already functioning. Even though you do not consciously realize it, you remember how to get up and you remember how the pillow and the blanket feel. You remember where the door and the bathroom is. You remember where the bathroom articles are and how the sink and shower works. Everything you do during the day depends on your memory. Your brain automatically processes information in three steps: codifying, archiving, and recovering information. Without memory you would live as a mental vegetable because intelligence depends on the memory to produce activity, to reason, to communicate, to plan, and to achieve goals.

Sometimes, we forgot to turn on the coffee maker and worry about our bad memory in spite of the fact that everything we have ever done has depended upon its proper function. Because of this, you might ask, why does my memory work for some things and for other things it doesn’t? This article purposes to answer that question and show you how to make use of your memory to its fullest capacity in memorizing Scripture.

First, you need to understand that when we say memory, in reality we are speaking of several different functions of the brain. A computer has temporary memory and permanent memory. When you type on a computer, the work is being saved temporarily in microchips or in a temporary section of the hard drive. In order for the work to be permanently saved you must save your work to the permanent area of the hard drive. If you have not saved your work, and all of a sudden there is a power failure, you will lose all of the unsaved work.

Human memory is much more complicated than a computer’s, but they are similar in some ways. The brain consists of different types of memory. The simplest type of memory is called “environmental memory,” which is the instantaneous ability to recognize the environment by way of the five senses.

When you get up in the morning and touch the nightstand with your hand, even without seeing it, you know what you are touching. The permanent area of the memory recognizes the feel and hardness of the wood, and the form and shape of the nightstand. However, the incident itself will be forgotten within a few seconds after touching it. In the course of a day, the five senses work in conjunction with the memory to recognize thousands of things, but this memory is not saved unless something catches your attention or is considered important in some way.

Giving some level of attention or importance to an experience will result in the second type of memory which is commonly called “short-term memory.” This type of memory is contained in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. If I turn on the coffee maker and there is a certain interest or importance in drinking a cup of coffee, the short-term memory will probably remind me to go back in a few minutes to get my cup of coffee. If there was not enough attention or importance, or if my attention is distracted by other matters, it is possible that I will forget to go back to the coffee maker. This type of memory is short and dependent on attention and importance. Even if I remember to drink my coffee, in a few hours or days, if I don’t think about it for some reason, that incident will be lost from my memory and I will not remember having done it.

However, if you were drinking your coffee on September eleven and turned on the television in time to see the terrorists crash their planes into the twin towers of New York, it is quite probable that even today, years later, not only do you remember seeing that terrible event, you also remember where you were and that you were drinking your coffee. The event impacted you in such a way that it was engraved in your permanent memory along with many insignificant things related to that experience. This is called “long-term memory.”

Long-term memory appears to be located in the area of the brain called the hippocampus, and can be divided into at least three classes. The first class is process memory and is the most permanent of all. Some things, once learned, are never forgotten even if the experience is not repeated for years. Examples of this include riding a bicycle, driving a car, tying a knot, or swimming.

The second class of long-term memory is called declarative memory. This class saves informational data. Data is received quickly and lost quickly if it only stimulates the short term memory. However, if the data is considered important and there is some degree of interest in it or, in some cases, if it is very important or strange, it will be engraved in this class of long-term memory. This is the class of memory in which we are most interested because it is here that we will permanently memorize Scripture.

The third class is called foundational memory which saves experiences from early ages. Some of these memories may be considered important while others may not seem to have the least significance. Because of this, foundational memory is the most mysterious of the three. However, a significant detail for our consideration is the way in which some memories are not forgotten because they are associated with another memory. This process of association of memories is very useful for memorizing Scripture.

This is part one of this article. Click here for part two, three, or four.

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