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2:03pm on Saturday, 3rd April, 2010:



Something I've noticed when I'm lying in bed trying to get to sleep (or to get back to sleep) is that I'm better at thinking some things when I lie on one side than on the other. If I lie on my left, I'm very good with visualising things and imagining things, but if I try to think of ways to say something or if I try to structure words then before I know it I'm back to pictures. If I lie on my right, then words come easily but if I try to see (or otherwise sense) anything it always comes back to the words. Similarly, if I lie on my left and think if my grandparents I'll remember what they looked like first; if I lie on my right, I'll remember them saying specific things. Curiously, if I want to remember what they sound like then I'd be better off doing it on my left than on my right: it's only if I want to remember what they said that I'd be better off on my right.

Although this sounds like a great way to use the deeper powers of the mind, actually it's not. I don't have superior visualisation powers when I'm dozing off on my left, I merely have reduced verbalisation powers. Sometimes, neither side can do it.

This morning, for example, I was trying to remember a word that I knew I knew. The chain of thought that got me to it was two-pronged, which is why I particularly wanted to know it. Prong 1 (on my right side) went "damn you, iTunes" to "what songs do I like that I don't have?" to "what song should I tell people to play at my funeral should they ask?" to Scarborough Fair to "not the Simon & Garfunkel version" to "I really should take my family to Scarborough, it was covered in fog that one time we went" to Scarborough Central Tramway to "what's the name of that type of train they use on that?".

I knew I knew the answer. I knew that I only had to sit up vertically and I would know the answer. I knew that I stood a faint chance of getting it while lying down, but I would know instantly as soon as I sat up. However, that would mean I wasn't going to go back to sleep again. At this point, I therefore rolled over.

Prong 2 (on my left side) went ArcelorMittal Orbit to Tatlin's Tower to Eiffel Tower to Santa Justa Lift to Scarborough Central Tramway to "what's the name of that type of train they use on that?".

I tried to work it out, and to trigger some memories. I could have set off a mental process to recover it, but that would have taken time to produce an answer. All I needed to do was sit up and I'd get it.

I cracked. I got out of bed and stood up, and within half a second the word "funicular" popped into my head. Sigh...

Oh well, at least this isn't a word I have trouble remembering every single time — unlike pantograph, which I know is going to mean I'm going to have to sit up to remember if the concept comes into my head when I'm nodding off.

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).