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We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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Question: Why does memory appear random?

Gary Small: It seems that memory is random. Some things we recall better than others. It’s probably not random. It’s just that we don’t always understand what makes one experience more memorable than another. One way to wrap your head around this is to think emotional memory. Anytime we experience something in a heightened emotional state we’re more likely to remember it. For example, most of us who are baby boomer remember exactly what was happening to them the day that President Kennedy was shot, but it’s unlikely that we remember what was going on the week before or the week after, so there are experiences that taint or exaggerate certain memories that make them fix into our memory stores better than others.

Question: Why do memories change over time?

Gary Small: Often our memories seem to be malleable, that is they seem to change over time and I’ve had the experience. I’m sure many of us have had the experience where we go back to a place and we’re convinced that It’s on the other side of the street or they’re something different about it and yet that hadn’t occurred and what happens is that memory is basically stored in little neurochemical packets in the brain and there are a lot of physiological processes that can affect those neurochemical packets, so they can be changed and our memories can deceive us very often.

More from the Big Idea for Friday, November 22 2013

The Rules of Power

"Martyrdom's blood and tears can wash away grievous sins -- the martyr's and our own." That is the case of John F. Kennedy's legacy, writes Larry J. Sabato, author of The Kennedy Half-Century: ... Read More…


The Moments We Don’t Forget

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