Elephantine memory

Elephantine memory

So far, we have looked at sensory memory and short-term memory both of which last for under a minute. So how does one go about acquiring an elephantine memory? What are the secrets of long-term memory?

Long-term memory involves actual physical changes made to the brain and is virtually limitless. In our computer, we could be typing something in a document. The moment we save the document, it is stored on a hard-disk. The hard-disk is the computer’s equivalent of long-term memory. Similarly in the brain, the contents of the short-term memory need to be saved to long-term memory before they are available for long-term usage. When it comes to our brain, where do we store the memory and how is it stored? That depends on the type of memory.

Types of Long-Term Memory

Let’s look at the different kinds of long-term memory.



Explicit Memory (or Declarative Memory) is memory that we are aware of and can consciously recall. This can take the following forms.

Episodic Memory refers to memory related to events and episodes in your life. These are autobiographical in nature. What do you remember of your first day in school or college? Can you remember your first day at work? What were you doing when you first heard of 9/11? These are examples of episodic memories.

Semantic Memory relates to facts and concepts. Some examples include, capitals and leaders of countries, how many bytes make a GB (gigabyte), ingredients needed for a recipe you are familiar with, lead actors of a movie and so on.

Implicit Memory (or Non-Declarative Memory) is implied – something that happens without your being aware of it most of the time. Conscious recall is not needed for this. These memories may be created by something that you did consciously. However, at this point in time, retrieval of such memory is almost always done unconsciously.

Procedural Memory relates to skills and habits. Learned skills like bicycle riding or driving a car are part of this memory. In the movie Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne knew nothing of his past – his name or his background. Yet, he knew how to clean and load a gun and to shoot. That was his procedural memory making its presence felt.

Some scientists have classified long-term memory as

Retrospective Memory which deals the past events, people, words etc.; and

Prospective Memory which deals with remembering to perform actions in the future. This kind of memory is special because it now moves into the area of brain remembering to remember.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other classifications done by scientists. You might be wondering, how this information about types of long-term memory is useful in improving your memory. Different parts of the brain are involved in different kinds of memory. If you know which kind of memory comes easily to you, then you can use that information to help you in learning and remembering.

In the coming posts, I will explore the processes involved in putting all this information together to form a memory and how we can apply that knowledge to improving our own memory.

For further reading:

  1. The Brain From Top to Bottom
  2. Memory Systems

Previous posts in this series on memory

  1. What every Brain Owner should know about their Memory
  2. Types of Memory: Importance of Sensory Memory
  3. The Truth about Short-Term Memory

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