I need to run chkdsk on my brain...
September 20, 2009 9:35 PM   Subscribe

My mind is blown, it's not my own, where did my idea go? I'm feeling fine, but I've lost my mind! Help?

Three days ago, while walking somewhere, I came up with a cool idea. A really cool idea. I mean, an astoundingly awesome idea.

And now I can't remember what it is.

Do you have any tips for recovering memories like this? I was distracted by something immediately after getting the idea, and I guess it didn't get stored into permanent memory in my brain.

It probably wasn't as incredibly brilliant as I am remembering, but it's been persistently bugging me that I've forgotten what it is. I really don't remember anything about it, except that I was excited about it. This has happened before, but it's never been so frustrating for so long! It feels like a big pothole in my mind.

So, mefites, do you have any tips, tricks, mindhacks, etc, for remembering stuff like this? Should I stare at a candle cross-eyed while huffing ginkgo-biloba vapour? Hang upside down blindfolded and think about it as hard as possible? I've tried NOT thinking about it, but it hasn't worked, and it keeps coming back to haunt me. Have you found anything that works for this? I don't even know if there's anything that can help, but I'm open to suggestions. Thanks!
posted by Salvor Hardin to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes when this happens to me, I can jog my memory by retracing my path or recreating the situation I was in when I had the idea.
posted by hattifattener at 9:41 PM on September 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Re-enact the situation. Try to walk in the same place at the same type of day and re-think any of the same thoughts you remember.
posted by idiotfactory at 9:42 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have found that if I can put myself back into the same situation, the memory often returns. If I was walking down Madison Lane when I had the idea, I go back to Mad Lane to see if I can regrab the idea. If I was with friends, I might call them and sort of talk it out. If I was drunk or otherwise, I try to return to that state of mind. Btw, I have found that most of these missing memories that eventually return are not such great ideas, but every once in a while a really good one is there, so don't give up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:42 PM on September 20, 2009

I find a lot of my ideas happen the way you see on "House" where something seemingly unrelated happens and noticing it sparks an idea, because some aspect of it, with a twist, pertains to this other thing you've been thinking about as well.

So rather than try to recreate the situation, I'd try to figure out the kinds of things you might have been thinking at that time (finances? The weather? The scenery? What to have for lunch? Anythings you've been thinking a lot about lately?) and let them percolate together in a similar way as to when you had your idea.

You're idea likely didn't come out of nowhere, it came out of other things you were thinking about. Keep thinking about those things.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:51 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Mmm - reenacting the situation mentally and physically sounds like a good idea - I'll try that tomorrow. I know exactly where I was and where I was going at the time, so it's worth a try.

I fear I may have waited too long - the absence of the memory still occurs to me several times every day, but it's been almost four days and no clues have come to me. It's a little unsettling that it's bugging me so much...this isn't a sign of some weird mental illness is it?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:11 PM on September 20, 2009

This will probably sound weird but sometimes in that situation I do a kind of stream-of-consciousness babble talking to myself, in the orbit or mien of my best guess on what the idea was about, and sometimes some combination of the words I say is close enough to remind me of my idea. (Not very often, though. Most of the time I just get fed up after a little while and think "Wow, I really am a babbling idiot." ;ยท)
posted by XMLicious at 10:35 PM on September 20, 2009

When/if you retrace your steps, bring some means of recording the idea such as an index card and pen or a phone that allows you to make random notes or memos. If the idea resurfaces, capture it.
posted by scatter gather at 10:59 PM on September 20, 2009

The feeling that it was a great idea isn't the same as it actually being a great idea. If you've got the kind of mind that thinks up great ideas, there will be more coming.

If you want to avoid this in the future, carry a pen/pencil and notepad. I do it and lots of artists/engineers do, too. We write stuff down. A lot.

Here's a good idea. Carry a cell phone. Next great idea, call yourself and leave a message. You won't look like an idiot (as I do when I carry a pen everywhere I go!), and you can also call people if you aren't busy having good ideas. Woot.

In the near future, there will probably be cheap drugs to boost memory. Meantime, tech is your friend to prevent a repeat.

Having taken a bunch of great ideas from the vapor stage to shipping hardware, I can definitively tell you, unambiguously, the idea is a fractional percentage of the end product. Anyone can have a great idea. Getting it real is where the magic is.

The kind of great idea that comes from a huge revelation is usually persistent enough and relevant to one's endeavors that it is not forgotten. Kary Mullis had such an idea while driving his car cross country that involved PCR, a concept used to amplify DNA samples. He won a Nobel prize with it. There are other examples. Consider that there are few, by comparison the number of people who THINK they had a great idea, and are confused by the feeling that they actually did. My nephew used to bill himself as an 'idea guy', not an implementer. He's in his 40's now, still coming up with ideas and no stuff.

Not to pour water on your idea, of course. Recalling anything demands the same set of conditions, so I'd concentrate on the thought train leading up to it, but not lose sleep over it if it proves elusive. Ideas really are cheap. Another will be along soon! The real challenge for the creative mind is choosing among large numbers of them.
posted by FauxScot at 2:05 AM on September 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is one of the big reasons I bought a palmtop. You might think it's just an electronic notebook, but that's not really true. A notebook can record your idea, but it can't remind you about it later.

Having taken a bunch of great ideas from the vapor stage to shipping hardware, I can definitively tell you, unambiguously, the idea is a fractional percentage of the end product. Anyone can have a great idea. Getting it real is where the magic is.

Absolutely true. To a first approximation, invention is 0% inspiration and 100% perspiration.
posted by DU at 4:55 AM on September 21, 2009

Try hypnotic regression. It worked well for Fox Mulder.
posted by howgenerica at 8:32 AM on September 21, 2009

The feeling that it was a great idea isn't the same as it actually being a great idea.

Hah, yeah, this is so true. I used to often have this feeling, where I thought I'd forgotten some life changing idea, then spent hours or days trying to remember it, only to eventually realise my earth shattering idea was something relatively mundane like getting a new plant for my apartment. It's so disappointing :(

What I do now, when I think of something I just feel like I HAVE to remember and contemplate more or act on later, particularly if I am out and about, is I will type it into my phone as a text message then just save the message as a draft. It can make for some interesting reading through my draft messages folder from time to time. I never try the "note" feature that most phones seem to have these days, but I guess this might even be a better way to achieve the same thing.
posted by Diag at 2:22 AM on September 23, 2009

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