Memory – Storage – Refreshing

Friday, December 12th, 2008 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

Last week we talked a little about the electrochemical processes which can cause an individual neuron to change it’s structure, and how this change is the function from which our memory systems are built.

Spacing Effect

Experiments on human memory recall show what’s known as the spacing effect. That is, human beings remember things for longer if they are repeated in a particular pattern. The pattern isn’t just “Lots of times”, but “lots of times with a particular pattern of spacing between those times”. You can’t learn a fact for your whole life by reading it over and over for a few minutes. This is known as cramming and while it may yet you through tomorrow’s test, it won’t help you remember something for life. For that, you need to read it a few times today, then again next week, then again a month after that. And maybe again six months later. It’s this pattern of gradually increasing spacing between repetitions which Piotr Wozniak has dedicated his life to studing.

Wired Magazine carried a report on him and his work back in April 2008. He has not only built a good model of how this works inside the brain, he’s also developed a computer program to help calculate exactly when the optimum time for the next repetition is.

Essentially this program is a cue-card system. You give it a list of the things you want to remember, and it tests you regularly. Each time you’re tested you tell the system if you were able to recall the answer before being presented with it and the program uses that information to calculate the precise rates of remembering and forgetting your brain experiences for this given fact. From this is calculates when the optimum time for retesting is. It turns out, if you want to remember a fact you need to be tested on it just before you forget it. The software determines when that likely will be, tunes itself for your particular brain, and prompts you at precicely that time.

Supermemo itself, Wozniak’s software, is only available for Windows, and is not free software, however Mnemosyne should work on most operation systems, has the full source-code freely available and redistributable, and is free of charge.

You should certainly be using a system like this if you’re trying to learn a new topic, a new language or are studying a subject. There is no shame in using technology to improve your recall and push you along the path to transcendence.


You now see another reason why the Loci system works, while using extreme and interesting visual imagery helps to initiate Long Term Potentiation (LTP), this is not enough to keep a memory embedded in your mind forever. LTP also decays. You must also refresh those chemical changes often enough to keep them active. By imagining yourself wondering around your Loci map often you refresh your memories, preventing their decay, increasing their stability.


While Supermemo and the like are incredibly useful tools for learning facts, detailed knowledge and new languages etc, they are not too useful for helping you to remember the day to day activities in your life. For this, you need repetition without consciously knowing what things will make good cue cards or will be important months from now.

This month’s meditation isn’t designed to be listened to intensively, every night for weeks on end. It’s designed to be listened to occasionally, perhaps once a week to once a month. It will encourage you to refresh your memories of the things which have happened to you since the last time you used this particular meditation. To refresh the details and events of those memories to ensure that rather than drifting away you reinforce the LTP processes in your neurons and keep your memories fresh and vivid.

Because more than one repetition is needed to keep your memory refreshed, we’ll also encourage you to remember the memories you refreshed last time for a few minutes too. And, indeed, to remember the things which happened during the previous interval too.