Monday, June 04, 2007


Do our brains have a fixed disk space for certain bits of information, and can that space be enlarged if necessary?

I was wondering about this because my own brain seems to have a remarkably small disk space allotted to names of flowers, as you may have noticed from my last post's reference to Bordeaux-coloured ground-covering flowers. Not very precise, and although I had heard the name of the plant only that day whilst chatting to my neighbour who has a much larger disk-space for plant names (he of the immaculate garden stuffed to the brim with interesting thought-provoking flora), I still couldn't remember it when I came to write it down.

When I was at university, I read Arabic and Islamic Studies and one of our erudite profs - a Scot whose nose betrayed a certain enjoyment of a tipple or two on a regular basis - told us that he had reached maximum capacity for learning new Arabic words. In other words, he could no longer remember any new words he came across. As he already had many hundreds in his pocket, I'm not sure this presented him with too much of a problem, but I wonder how many names of plants he knew.

My capacity for remembering Arabic words was, surprisingly but thankfully, considerably better than for names of plants, especially those Latin ones which go in one ear and straight out the other without passing Go or collecting £200. I doubt I could ever have studied medicine for the same reason. Never would I have had the chance to pass out in an operating theatre because I would never have got that far, falling at the first hurdle of remember reams of Latin names. Actually, I wouldn't ever have even got that far as I'm crap at maths and mostly crap at science. I say 'mostly' because I got a 'B' in my chemistry 'O' level, but I recognised my limits in that subject and despite tempting cajolings from my chemistry teacher who used to pick his nose in class and wipe the bogeys off on the back of his tie, I did English instead. We didn't have Media Studies options in those days.

I think the plant's name begins with 'G', and I've concluded that it was carried off by aliens in search of a pot plant without a pot for their outer spacial Mother's Day.


  1. Beurk! Your chemistry teacher certainly made an impression on you, if only for the wrong reasons!

    Reminds me of one of my Primary teachers who absent mindedly twiddled bits of his ginger beard between his fingers and flicked tiny balls of his facial hair all over the class room.

  2. I was absolutely useless at Maths - and managed to get thru medecine just the same! I do have a phenominal memory for absolutely tons of useless information....can remember the most incredible things about everything everywhere at whatever what time in history or today's goings on. Apprentice of all information, master of none!

    It even seems to be a bottomless well, and I go on collecting and collecting.

    However - as soon as it is practical (like my ordi for example) my mind goes absolutely blank, instructions for putting stuff up, or down, or together, catastrophy. Can't remember how to open the bonnet of my car, or what to do to liberate the tool set in the back....even opening the trunk flooors me.

    Conclusion, we all have really special sorts of A1 memories for somethings - I'm jolly good with flowers....sorry......but don't ask me the way down to the next street or how to turn on a new tv or DVD machine!!!!! Useless.

    Show me the flower next time, and I will tell you its french, not in latin!!!

  3. Most of us must have memories of some vile teacher. My father once upset my science teacher about some bit of homework we were set, and when I gave it to him, he read it and, through gritted teeth, smiled his crocodile smile, sent me on my way and then let out a series of expletives, totally furious! The guy was a lunatic.

  4. Seems like we could go back to the beginning to find an answer...we'd need to refer back to our good friends Aristotle (roughly speaking "head is empty") and Plato (mind needs transforming) to find the original discussion on whether the head's empty or full... I tend to side more with Plato, but in the end, it is an amalgam, and we'll need add a bit of Plutarch ("c'est une lampe a allumer"). Ultimately, curiosity pushes the brain's expansion plans & ambitions. ps I enjoy your blog. is mine.

  5. Thank you, Minter, for your interesting remarks. You say that curiosity pushes the brain's expansion which is true, but where I get confused is where I think I am interested, but in fact STILL cannot retain the information.

    Does this imply that I'm kidding myself, and in fact, I'm not interested? Perhaps it's because I feel I ought to be, but in fact, my capacity to retain the information belies my true feelings.

    I think I'm interested in the making of the English and read a fascinating book on the subject a few years ago. Can I remember it now? Not a thing.

    Either I have a wayward mind, or I don't know my own thoughts. Worrying.


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