Friday, April 6, 2012

Place and memory

Blank spots on the memory map - Reading "Moonwalking with Einstein" has sensitized me to remembering and forgetting. And memory and place. The book uses spatial techniques - memory palaces - to store information. And according to the book the brain is good at remembering places. But how good is it really?

Last weekend we did a 37 km long bicycle tour around Rotterdam. Now - a week later - I'm trying to remember the route. This is the result:
The parts marked yellow are easy to remember. I can play back the tape. The unmarked spots are a vague blur of impressions. Why are some places easier to remember?
  • Because they are in known territory and I can link them to earlier routes. This applies to the whole area North of the river. I know that well and I have explored most parts of it.
  • Because they are surprising and I can link them to concepts I've been thinking about. For example the two unique spots are islands of history between modern buildings. Like the "Kakanien" of Robert Musil's The man without qualities.
Some parts of the route are more difficult to play back. My memory likes to skip the difficult parts and play "fast forward" to the easy parts. It is also difficult to start replaying at random points in the route. The most memorable spots "attract" the memory and are the most natural starting points.

Of course there is a lot of existing research about spatial memory. But als always with this blog: experience first, theory later.

The memorable outliers - And which parts of the route are most memorable? The ones that surprised me. Those are not tracks, but spots on the map.
Starting from top right counterclockwise:
What is the strange glass house with an indoor swimming pool and a lot of artworks in the garden where you can look into the sleeping room through the large windows? Who is so rich? And why is he acting so transparantly?
 A classic tennis court, hidden in a hollow inside the rich neighborhood. A little bit of class and luxury that the rich folks organized for themselves.
The deserted football fields - that I liked very much - are falling victim to a new residential area. New rich houses. I hope the garden allotments will stay - usually these also fall victim to capital investments.
A beautiful ride along the old canal through Delfshaven. Aelbrechtskade. Interesting unstructured businesses along the canal: car repair shops, small consulting firms. A few boats ferrying sand still moored along the quay.
An old dyke and a tiny island of old houses and a beautiful church in Charloois. A big surprise in the middle of the industrial area of the harbor. A nice protestant church in the middle of the village island.
There is a whole Karl Marx neighborhood in the south of Rotterdam. Sympathetic! This must have an interesting history! Did the socialists organize this in the 1930's?
An interesting underpass under the railroad. It is decorated with historic graffiti. I never knew that the IJsselmonde neighborhood was so old it had a Latin name: Islamunda.
Another interesting old dyke in the middle of a modern residential area. Does it still "work"? I should know more about this water protection infrastructure.
Extremely old and spooky trees along the river.
A very good but rather expensive new Italian restaurant in the middle of a rich neighborhood. Pleasant atmosphere. A lot of yuppies with babies, but not too irritating.
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything - Joshua Foer
Memory palace
Man without qualities - Kakanien
GPS Visualizer
Spatial memory

1 comment:

  1. Nice one Petr, I think you should have a look at Qgis for visualising - it's a bit of a learning curve but it's worth it - there's a first steps over at my blog here: