Liquid-Style Memory

Table of Contents (links within this page)

  1. (1) Introduction
  2. (2) Liquid and Solid Memory
  3. (3) Lots of examples:
  4. (4) Bag analogy
  5. (5) Problem Solving
  6. (9) Conclusion

(1) Introduction ...[top]

What is the essence of the creative thinking style? Descriptions such as "shifts attention frequently" or "poor short-term memory" don't succeed in capturing it. An Explorer tends to shift attention rapidly, but when intent on a new, interesting project maintains focussed attention longer than a non-Explorer. Creative, spontaneous, disorganized, energetic: what is the link connecting these characteristics?

Explorers have memories that are like liquids, as compared to non-Explorers who have memories that are more like solids or gels. This applies both to long-term and short-term memory. It's separate from the question of how good or bad a person's memory is: it's a matter of different styles or types of memory, like the difference between long-term and short-term memory, or the difference between being able to remember words and being able to remember faces.

Memory is basic to thought. You can't think if you don't have short-term memory. If you want to think about a line intersecting a circle, you have to remember the concept "line" long enough for some thinking to get accomplished.

(2) Liquid and Solid Memory ...[top]

Liquid memory works like this: you ask for something, and you get something that had previously been put into the memory, but nobody could have predicted what you would have gotten.

Solid memory works like this: you ask for a particular thing, and there is one right answer.

Everyone uses both memory styles. Perhaps the essential characteristic of an Explorer personality type is that the liquid style is used more.

(3) Lots of examples: ...[top]

Liquid memory: You're writing a story and you need a name for one of your characters. Suddenly you think "Melissa." This is one of many names you've heard during your lifetime.

Solid memory: You look at somebody, and their name comes to mind.

Liquid memory: You have a spare hour, so you ask yourself, "what housework needs to be done?" Changing the sheets comes to mind as one of many possible projects.

Solid memory: You ask yourself, "Where did I put those sheets?", then walk straight to the correct closet and take them out.

Liquid memory: You're working on some equations and you want to introduce a new variable. You've already used a,b,c,x,y, and z. You need a new letter. You think "how about 'p'?". (or i, or alpha, etc.)

Solid memory: What's the derivative of x-squared?

(4) Bag analogy ...[top]

A liquid memory is like a bag full of toys. When you want to play, you pull one out. You usually get one you haven't seen for a while. The toys mix around inside the bag.

A solid memory is like an organized purse. The checkbook is in the checkbook compartment. The coins are in the coin compartment, etc.

The liquid system would work well for toys. The purpose is to bring out something new, surprising and interesting. The liquid system would not work well for a purse. When you want money, there's no use pulling out a pair of sunglasses, and vice versa. Some people have liquid-system purses. They keep pulling things out one-at-a-time until they find what they're looking for. It works, but not well.

The solid system would not work well for toys. When you ask for a toy, you would always get the same one. You'd have to say, "no, I'm bored with that one. Give me another." You would then always get the same second choice, etc. No surprise, no fun, much time and motivation lost while searching for something new.

In a liquid, the molecules mix around. In a solid, the molecules stay linked together in an unchanging structure.

(5) Problem Solving ...[top]

To solve problems you have to think up new thoughts. A liquid memory that keeps returning different ideas allows new combinations to form. Creativity is the re-arrangement of old ideas in new ways.

An organized mind, which keeps returning the same answers to the same questions, is not very good at thinking up solutions to problems. A creative mind thinks up many new ideas, then tests and rejects most of them and keeps the few that happen to be good. That's the only way to come up with new ideas.

(9) Conclusion ...[top]

If you can't remember where you filed things because they might be under M for Meeting, S for Seminar, J for Joe or D for December, then congratulate yourself: you've got the kind of mind that can effortlessly think up new, interesting ideas. Some people can only think up one logical place to file something: you can think of lots. You can no doubt think up lots of possible solutions to problems, too.

You can use your creative talents to do wonderful things, including thinking up ways to make most of your filing unnecessary, or thinking up filing systems that will work for you.

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