Mnemonics: A Simple Guide to Remembering Dreams

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People often remark that my dreams seem unusually detailed. How do you remember so much, they ask. I didn’t used to. But being a stubborn little boy, I didn’t leave the problem alone.

It’s alarming, after all, to discover you’re not in full control over your own brain. Why should it have some sort of automatic mechanism for forgetting dreams when I don’t want it to? It’s like an irritating “convenience feature” on your phone you go looking for a tutorial on how to turn off.

Anyway It seemed to be the case that the human brain is wired to quickly forget any memories formed while sleeping. Dreams, namely. It’s not easy to see why, dreams are unimportant to survival and need to be deleted to make room for survival pertinent stuff.

So, how do you flag dreams as “do not delete”? You’ll have to do it right after you awaken, for one. That’s when the memories of the dream are freshest. You will need to create a bridge between the memories formed while sleeping, and a memory formed while awake. This will be your “mnemonic device”.

A mnemonic device can be an acronym or other assembly of words the only purpose of which is to help you remember something much larger and more complex. Like how the first letter in every word of “My Very Enthusiastic Mother Just Served Us Noodles” is used to recall the order of planets in our solar system.

That’s crucial: Information can be stored not just in the words you choose, but their order. More on that in a little bit.

First, let’s say you have a dream in which you’re walking on a mountain when suddenly it erupts, having in fact been a dormant volcano. Magma flows down the sides and thinking quickly, you fashion a tungsten boat in which to survive the journey. You wind up on a beach where before you, a sea serpent arises. Many people on the beach point to the serpent and make remarks about it. You then climb up the serpent like a beanstalk into the clouds, where you find a treasure chest filled with candy.

Now, let’s break that dream down into scenes. The first scene would be the volcano. Then the beach, then the cloud world with the treasure in it. Now, what was the most remarkable, memorable event in each scene? The lava boat was the focus of the volcano scene. The sea serpent was the focus of the ocean scene. The treasure chest full of candy was the focus of the cloud world scene.

“Lava boat sea serpent candy treasure” would be a serviceable mnemonic device for this dream. As I alluded to earlier it records not just the most noteworthy events, but the order in which they occurred. This will become important if you later which to reconstruct them into a coherent narrative.

Guess what? That sentence of seeming nonsense words is a memory you formed while awake! That makes it more durable than the memories of your dreams. But if you made a mnemonic device, then it’s connected to those memories. Anchored to them in a way which, even after your brain erases them, can be used to dredge them back up out of the neurological recycle bin.

Anyway, I hope that’s helpful. Let me know if you use it to recall your own dreams!

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