Memory: An Outlook on Creativity & Intelligence

Memory: An Outlook on Creativity & Intelligence

The Greek orators used method of loci to memorize their speeches. In this technique, the speakers associated their points in speeches with landmarks or places in their towns. As they imaginatively passed by a specific place or landmark, it enabled them to ingemination the associated memory item. The invention of this technique can be regarded as creative, while its nimble utilization as intelligence! How exactly is memory related to creativity and intelligence? In this article, we will aim to discuss how memory is used for creativity and intelligence-oriented responsibilities. The effort is based on different research studies, experiments, and generalizations made from those experiments.

Definition, Types & Working

Memory is defined as “the method by which we retain and draw on our past experiences to use that information in the present” (Tulving, 2000). It is interesting the definition associates the term use with memory function; we are also determined to understand how the memory is used for creative and intelligence-oriented responsibilities. Alternatively, Encyclopedia Britannica defines memory as the encoding, storage and retrieval in the human mind of past experiences. consequently, there are three major stages of information processing in human memory; Encoding or Acquisition, Storage or Safekeeping and Retrieval or Recollection.

William James, an American psychologist and philosopher, distinguished two types of memory; dominant, which is concerned with managing transient and short-term concerns, and secondary, which is responsible for storing information for long-term purposes. The short-term memory is the working area of the brain while long-term memory is its storage place. The permanent memory of an average person may store 5 to 9 units of information, while the capacity of long-lasting memory is virtually limitless. The duration of short-term memory for holding information is up to 30 seconds while information stored in long-term memory can last a lifespan. Lastly, working memory is kept and recollected sequentially while the long-lasting memory is stored and recovered by Association or Consolidation (McLeod, 2013).

Association or Consolidation is a highly important characterize of memory processing. It is the ‘transferring’ of information/experience from short-term to long-term memory. We are inevitably obtaining information day in and day out; this information directly goes to short-term memory. It is undesirable and impossible to store all the details surrounding us, permanently. There are, however, some experiences or information we do acquire, store and save during our everyday life, deliberately or otherwise. For this, our brain demands the transmission of an experience, event or knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory which is done by association or consolidation. It is synergizing new information or experience with before acquired information or experience. For example, the method of loci mentioned in the beginning is an application of the same occurrence; the association of parts of speeches with landmarks.

The information is consolidated, more easily, when a person is attentive and alert, inferring the significance of “concentration” and “focus”. Emotional association – such as by pain, joy, pleasure or fear – also tends to solidify memory traces (Mayda, 2010). It is typically understood the memory can associate particular smell, place or music with a certain occurrence, in addition.

If consolidation of present experience is made with past information for safekeeping, then it is surely possible, our existing information might be associated with a future event. The readers may amuse themselves with an interesting argument, “episodic memory (personal memory or experience) supports ‘mental time travel’ into the future in addition as the past, and indeed, numerous recent studies have provided evidence that episodic memory contributes importantly to imagining or simulating possible future experiences” (Madore, Addis & Schacter, 2015).

Memory & Brain

American neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield (1891-1976) found the first evidence for physical basis of memory (O’Shea, 2005). His experiments presented specific memories not only have a physical basis but each also has a particular physical location in the brain. The memory trace in the brain is called engram (Britannica, 2019). Memory items stored in the brain manifest in the form of chemical or physical neural changes, i.e., memory physically alters our brain! The changes are transient for short-term memories while they must be long-lasting for long-term memories. Hippocampus is the part of the brain where short-term memories are ‘transferred’ into long-term memories (O’Shea, 2005).

The long-term memory requires a dialogue between synapses – gap among neurons – and genes while short-term memory does not (O’Shea; 2005). Both synapses and genes are pertinent to our theme of understanding how memory relates to creativity and intelligence. Synapses are active participants in the time of action of our brain responding to the changing ecosystem, which method, our behavior, along with the brain, is alternation continuously according to our latest experiences. What’s more interesting, our ability to learn from these experiences largely depends on the way our genes are designed to respond! (O’Shea, 2005).

Memory & Forgetfulness

When we talk about memory, we often call to mind the term forgetfulness (as a consequence of its ‘association’ with the definition of memory). Forgetfulness is defined as an unexpected lapse of memory; it can be sudden or gradual. Forgetfulness is an unavoidable and indispensable aspect of human life; it is “an absolutely basic and active component of the time of action of interacting effectively with a changing ecosystem” (O’Shea, 2005). additionally, evidence indicates the rate at which individuals forget is directly proportional to how much they have learned (Britannica, 2019). Time and forgetfulness are also co-related, time allows us to forget certain occurrences or at the minimum get past emotions associated with them. The ability to forget, events or emotions, can permit individuals to move on / move forward. Also, medically, our nervous system is relaxed by forgetting; otherwise, it might collapse (Mayda, 2010).

The fact remains that humans tend to forget more often than needed. Medically, there are numerous explanations, and psychologically, abundant enlightenments. The age factor elucidates forgetfulness is proportionate to the number of the loss of cells (Mayda, 2010) – clearing up why aged people can forget seemingly simple things. In everyday life, depression, stress, negative emotions such as anxiety and anger, carelessness, and importantly, not using acquired information leads to forgetfulness and poor memory (Coruh, 2012). Frequent drinking, drug abuse, physical contact and injuries on the head may reason for forgetfulness, in addition. It is recommended sound sleep, healthy diet and engagement in spiritually uplifting activities to avoid frequent memory losses. It is noteworthy, good memory responds to contentment with life and peace of mind.

Creativity, Intelligence & Memory

According to Frederic Bartlett, a British psychologist, remembering is not simply the recollection of before experienced events but instead involves an imaginative reconstruction of the past (Campbell, 1960). If so, isn’t memory function a creative course of action itself?

To proceed with our paper to rationalize the creativity and intelligence of memory, we first grasp the concept of Declarative Memory. Declarative or explicit memories, like declarative sentences, contain information about facts and events (Britannica, 2019). Declarative knowledge is highly crucial for comprehending the reality of our world/ecosystem and also to control our behavior patterns. There are two major types of declarative memory; episodic and semantic. Former are long-term (and complicate) memories of specific or personal events while latter are memories of facts and general knowledge. As we have seen under the section Memory & Brain, it is proved by experiments that “memory requires the brain to be physically changed by experience” (O’Shea, 2005). Life is a marvelous series of experiences that physically alter our brain, continuously, and as a consequence, form/re-form our behavior or personality. It is in the reserves of our memories, episodic and semantic, we find our life experiences and present knowledge that help us tackle everyday life challenges, whether demanding creativity or intelligence.

A creative challenge requires us to reconstruct our past life events and find existing knowledge/deductions in our memories for discovering new solution(s), i.e., we are able to form imaginative ideas based purely on our past experiences and current knowledge. As Donald T. Campbell, an American psychologist puts it: “remembering can be an important part of the creative course of action” (Campbell, 1960). Hence, it is safe to say the memory of an individual plays a meaningful role in developing his or her creative disposition and capacity. For example, novels are composed by creative authors who build imaginative worlds and clever personas, but it is precisely their real-life experiences that provide them with gems of creative writing!

Merriam Webster defines intelligence as “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations: the skilled use of reason.” We have already seen the memory requires the brain to be physically changed; “it is this exceptional character that makes thought and consciousness possible… The synaptic change or plasticity (of brain) is basic to learning and memory function” (O’Shea; 2005).

typically, our ability to understand and solve problems expresses our intelligence. There is clearly more to intelligence than problem understanding and solving, but we are particularly interested in calculating the position of intelligence from the outlook of memory. First, problem-understanding demands the application of existing knowledge and memories stored inside the human brain, correctly. For this purpose, the stored and applicable information is to be retrieved quickly from the long-term memory to working memory. Second, problem-solving entails the capability of the working memory to manager multiple thoughts and memories, gracefully, while also learning along the time of action. In short, nimble memory retrieval from long-lasting memory to transient memory and rapid thought-processing in the working memory enables us to understand and solve inner problems. For example, a person good in mental mathematics can solve tricky problems, briskly, in the head. It is because he or she is able to retrieve stored mathematical data/rules from the long-term memory, quickly, and manager the complete solution in the working memory, precisely.

“There is evidence that people can enhance their working memory – and possibly their intelligence – by practicing” (Minkel; 2010). Knowing this, we can appreciate why thinking and mental exercises are recommended for the well-being of our brain. The extraordinary and ultimate challenge is to harness the strength and treasures of memory; to embrace and learn from in any case experience life puts us by.


Tulving, E. (2000). Memory: An Overview. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, Vol. 5, pp. 161-162.

McLeod, S. A. (2013). Stages of Memory: Encoding Storage and Retrieval. Simply Psychology.

Madore, K. P., Addis, D. R., & Schacter, D. L. (2015). Creativity and Memory: Effects of an Episodic-Specificity Induction on Divergent Thinking. Psychological science, 26(9), 1461-8.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (Last Updated: April 18, 2019). Memory. Encyclopedia Britannica: Encyclopedia Britannica, inc.

O’Shea, M. (2005). The Brain: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mayda, A. (2010). Memory and Forgetfulness. The Fountain Magazine, Issue: 73.

Coruh, H. (2012). Poor Memory and Its Causes. The Fountain Magazine, Issue: 87.

Campbell, D. T. (1960). Blind Variation and Selective Retentions in Creative Thought As In Other Knowledge Processes. Psychological Review, 67(6), 380-400.

Minkel, JR. (2010). Simple Memory Test Predicts Intelligence. Live Science.

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