The Subversive Mind

Discussions on behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, neurology, endocrinology, game theory, etc.

Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 17th, 2018, 1:50 pm 

Example A: A man leaves his house for work. He leaves the house and shuts the door. He goes to unlock the car, but he forgot to grab his keys. Now he can't get in the house either.

Example B: Someone asks for my phone number which hasn't changed in years, but I can't for the life of me recall it.

>Is there a difference between the type of forgetfulness in examples A and B?
>Why does the brain allow things to be forgotten knowing that the information is important?
>I also wonder why we still forget stuff considering it would disadvantage us, it hasn't evolved out.
>I've had experiences where the memory has been "on the tip of my tongue". I can "feel" the memory there, and I try to help it coalesce without success even though I know it's the right memory. It will often come to me hours later when the moment has gone. What's that all about? And is it the same forgetfulness as examples A or B?
>And why is it worse on some days than others.
>Can forgetfulness be measured and quantified, perhaps as a percentage of a standard?

I can think of more questions, trust me! But that's a fair bit to chew over. I wonder what you guys will make of it, I hope it gets you curious too. EH.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 2:42 pm 

Those examples are not so much of forgetting as of items "slipping one's mind". The fact that we have different expressions for it shows that both types of situation are familiar to most people. The difference between memory loss and memory lapse is significant - plus a third type, which might be described as memory misplacement. A memory loss is permanent - though we sometimes, sloppily, refer to a "temporary memory loss". A memory lapse is of very short duration - minutes, rather than hours. A memory displacement or misplacement or suppression can last anywhere from minutes to decades.

Example A is a memory lapse. You were preoccupied with the forthcoming trip to work, work itself, a conversation over breakfast, memories of last night, plans for later in the day, the minutia of preparation for departure. You were in a hurry; your mind was juggling a dozen or more unrelated thoughts, and one item was overlooked.

Example B is a memory misplacement. The information is stored, you know it's stored, but it's temporarily inaccessible. This, I think, is a lapse of the retrieval mechanism. It may have a variety of causes, including physical (e.g. age-related lacunae in the brain) physiological (e.g. diminished blood-supply) chemical (e.g. alcohol inhibiting neural function) or psychological (e.g. traumatic experience suppressing memories) There may be other factors I overlooked (temporarily forgot) or never knew.
Why does the brain allow things to be forgotten knowing that the information is important?

Because it's not a super-entity: it's just another organ, imperfect and subject to stresses, like every other part of the body.
>I also wonder why we still forget stuff considering it would disadvantage us, it hasn't evolved out.

We remember enough to get past past puberty and reproduce. The cave-boy who forgot that saber-toothed tigers are dangerous did evolve out. Burning a toast or having to break into your car are not life- or procreation-threatening lapses.
On a serious note, modern life may be overloading human brains to the point of frequent malfunction and breakdown. Just consider how many more names you know than people. What's the point of storing the names of actors, athletes, dead generals, fictional characters? We clutter our minds with an incredible amount of useless trivia, because the brain evolved in a real, animate, immediate environment, where everything we learned, experienced and observed had a practical application, was potentially important.
>Can forgetfulness be measured and quantified, perhaps as a percentage of a standard?

In Alzheimer's diagnostic tests and college exams, a reasonably successful attempt is made.
But, of course, the standard itself is necessarily arbitrary.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 17th, 2018, 4:02 pm 

That's a good reply Serpent. I think this thread - or at least the subject is a quite important one. I know nothing about memory dynamics so I'm just trying to get an idea of what's going on here.

I agree there is a difference between memory loss and memory lapse. It's strange that buried memories can be achieved by the application of hypnosis. Well, that's not strange, what is strange is that although a given memory is demonstrably accessible, we can't access it.

As for evolving out, I agree again. People do get killed all the time due to forgetting some vital protocol they've been routinely using for safety reasons. But again, subconsciously the brain must know how important it is, but neglects a lethal detail anyway. Our brains are highly evolved, but still fail to alert us we're gonna get killed!

And how the heck can we retain so much stuff? Terabytes of memories so detailed for so long into such a small location? That's just fascinating.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 5:32 pm 

Event Horizon » April 17th, 2018, 3:02 pm wrote: I'm just trying to get an idea of what's going on here.

You and a veritable army of neuro-scientists. This is fairly recently explored territory for biology, but it's been fodder for psychologists for at least a century.

It's strange that buried memories can be achieved by the application of hypnosis.
Well, that's not strange, what is strange is that although a given memory is demonstrably accessible, we can't access it.

Not always. I mean, it's always strange - spooky, even! - when it works, but it doesn't always work. Then, too, you sometimes get false memories implanted through hypnotic suggestion. There are so many processes involved.

People do get killed all the time due to forgetting some vital protocol they've been routinely using for safety reasons. But again, subconsciously the brain must know how important it is, but neglects a lethal detail anyway. Our brains are highly evolved, but still fail to alert us we're gonna get killed!

And sometimes you have to wonder whether that vital protocol was really forgotten, or what.
How often have you forgotten to do something you really didn't really feel like doing? There seems to be a set of priorities that's not rationally controlled.
Other factors, too.
One time, I made a total ass of myself, staring up at a 5-gallon container on top of a laboratory cabinet, spraying a fine jet of 95% alcohol, because the hose had slipped off the tap. I knew that I knew exactly what should be done, but could not recollect it. When we are unprepared, deliberate, selective information-retrieval may be blocked. Stress and and shock sometimes have the same effect.
Why?

And how the heck can we retain so much stuff? Terabytes of memories so detailed for so long into such a small location? That's just fascinating.

Amen!
Last edited by Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 6:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby TheVat on April 17th, 2018, 6:00 pm 

One time, I made a total ass of myself, staring up at a 5-gallon container on top of a laboratory cabinet, spraying a fine jet of 95% alcohol, because the hose had slipped off the tap. I knew that I knew exactly what should be done, but could not recollect it.


Throw a party, obviously.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Serpent on April 17th, 2018, 6:16 pm 

Bad idea. It was methyl.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 18th, 2018, 9:48 pm 

I think sometimes our subconscious does warn us of stuff. I think most people can say there has been a time when they have been stopped by a "feeling" they'd forgotten something even though they can't say exactly what it is. Sometimes this pause does give us time to remember, and then we can get on.

It seems the memory does self-correct at times. Mnemonics is still a bit of a niche field I think.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby edy420 on April 19th, 2018, 2:44 am 

I’ve suffered a type of memory loss, where I’m confused if my visual is just a memory, or if it’s an involuntary visual thought.
Visual thoughts are easy to forget, because they don’t bear any importance in terms of holding onto.

But when my wife walks me through an event, I’m hit with the realisation that it wasn’t a thought, but in fact it happened.
Sometimes when I concentrate hard enough, I’ll be hit with a wave of memories that I now know were all real events.

What’s strange is, even though they resurfaced, and I’ve walked through them with my wife, I’m beginning to lose them again.
It’s quite terrifying TBH.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on April 19th, 2018, 6:06 am 

Hi Edy. I'm sorry to hear of your difficulties.

I am no expert on memory hence the thread, and it affects us all for good or for bad. What you are describing sounds a bit unusual. It may be a known condition and I would recommend seeking medical advice if you have not done so already.

As these memories can be teased back into consciousness they seem not to be a total loss, but a temporary kind of loss that can be temporarily reinstated.
Age also plays a role as does dementia, Alzheimers etc. Catching those early seems to improve the outcome, but It doesn't sound like you have those either.

We can improve memory function by playing memory games which are myriad, and I believe Omega 3, 6 or 12 fish oils are also supposed to have a positive effect on memory function, but again, ask a physician because I am not qualified to give medical advice.

If you do see a doctor he may want to get your brain nMRI'd to see what's going on in there. Looking for evidence of encephalopathy and/or plaques. What parts of the brain light up when you try accessing memories.

It's so sad you have this problem, and if you do get your head looked at by a physician I would be grateful if you could share with us what the diagnosis is, and the treatment for our collective edification. Providing you are comfortable to do that.

All the best, EH.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby neuro on May 2nd, 2018, 9:21 am 

Event H,
if you wish to deepen your knowledge about memory, first you have to separate the memory into three distinct functions: recording, consolidating, retrieving.
You may have problems in recording (typical of dementia, e.g. Alzheimer).
You may have problems in consolidating: anything you record will be destabilized whenever you recall it, and may be stored again after having been slightly modified - this is the reason why two witnesses will remember the same episode diffferently.
You may have problems in retrieving. This does not necessarily mean one "has problems". The point is that the "spontaneous" (unconscious, not voluntarily driven, preverbal) flow of "thought" (it would possibly be better to say imaginative activity) is mostly guided by associations (and emotional relevance of evoked associations). This implies that the associative pathway from A to B may not be easily followed backward from B to A (many other paths that lead to B may have greater relevance...). This is the reason why you will probably have no problems in recalling the face of an actor you know when someone names them, whereas you may not be able to recall the name of an actor you have quite clearly in mind. Many similar phenomena of asymmetry occur (this is the feeling of having the info on the tip of your tongue).

Memory "lapses" are easily happening based on relevance, and sometimes they are practically counterproductive but emotionally understandable: the subconscious path avoids passages that may be painful or "dangerous" (possibly linked to some bad memory), or may simply be diverted by some other events/aspects/thoughts that are more emotionally relevant.

As for the difficulty in distinguishing memories from dreams/thoughts/fantasies, as mentioned by Edy, an important projection from the brainstem to associative sensory cortices (involving serotonin) has the function of telling our brain if something we visualize is out there (real) or generated by endogenous activity (imagination). Any drug or situation that influences our mental state or interferes with serotonin action can deceive this mechanism. This also is the basis of hallucinations.
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Re: Why do we forget stuff?

Postby Event Horizon on May 2nd, 2018, 6:29 pm 

Ah, really interesting. I take a high dosage of a medication called Seroquel that acts on serotonin. I didn't realize serotonin was even involved in memory. What a great reply, loads of stuff there to think on.
I was watching a film and one character was distressed he couldn't recall his wifes' face. His comrade told him to try and think of a context. A meal, a dance. I find it really does help as nearly everybody I knew are all dead now. The film was Saving Private Ryan.
Ah, see? context. Not his wife, his brother. I remember now!
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The Subversive Mind

Postby Event Horizon on December 29th, 2018, 8:40 am 

Some time ago, I posted a thread [now merged with this thread - mod. ] on why our subconscious doesn't always remind us of critical stuff until after the event.

But I have more charges to lay. Many people killed in building fires are killed by the toxic smoke. Our receptors would be working, and the subconscious knows that smoke means fire, yet it doesn't wake us up. Is it content to die? I add treachery and treason to the charge of subversion.

I can sometimes feel my subconscious working on something, although what its working on often remains a mystery. Why doesn't it want me to know what its doing? What's it hiding?

And why do my conscious mind and subconscious mind have separate agendas apparently?

Isn't this all an evolutionary disadvantage?
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Serpent on December 29th, 2018, 11:26 am 

Event Horizon » December 29th, 2018, 7:40 am wrote: Many people killed in building fires are killed by the toxic smoke. Our receptors would be working, and the subconscious knows that smoke means fire, yet it doesn't wake us up. Is it content to die?

No. The same toxic fumes that eventually kill you first render you unconscious or at least incapable. You can't wake up, or you do wake up, but can't move. That's not all on the brain: the lungs and heart are involved, too.

I add treachery and treason to the charge of subversion.

So, you declare war on your own brain? Not a constructive state of affairs, tmwot.

I can sometimes feel my subconscious working on something, although what its working on often remains a mystery. Why doesn't it want me to know what its doing? What's it hiding?

It's not hiding; you just don't know where to look or what to look for, because your subconscious hasn't figured out yet how to present the information so's you'll make sense of it. As soon as the message is ready, you will receive it - likely in the form of a dream, or a sudden eureka moment that's so intense it makes you burn the toast.

And why do my conscious mind and subconscious mind have separate agendas apparently?

They have the same agenda: keeping you functional in a challenging world - but you keep getting in their way.

Isn't this all an evolutionary disadvantage?

You're still here, yes?

In fact, I've had some interesting encounters with subconscious information-processing and problem-solving, including lucid dreaming. My own is fairly transparent: it mostly gives me visual ideas for art-work that would be amazing, if only I had the skill to carry them out, and presenting my anxieties in narrative - usually movie format.
Far more intriguing was the mental quest of a friend who suffers from chronic depression. They were encouraged to keep a dream log along with a daily mood graph and compare the two. It seems, after eight months, that whenever a particularly intense dream - however unpleasant or frightening - revealed something of the emotional turmoil of their past, their waking mood was markedly positive. I suggested that it was like jettisoning cargo to lighten a boat. Soon afterward, their dream narrative began to use black rocks to represent perceived threats and they were able to affect their own waking mood by deliberately throwing away rocks in their dreams.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Event Horizon on December 29th, 2018, 12:41 pm 

Me, PTSD recall. I did some experiments with Methoxetamine when it was still legal, and I rarely get the nightmares anymore but immersive flashbacks can come anytime.

I have 6 interacting conditions and spent 10 1/2 months in hospital last year alone. My subconscious has pushed me into many dangerous situations from which I've barely been savable. Still seems a bit subversive to me. It's an ongoing war, but that's another story.

Maybe its just my own mind that's faulty, and my experiences are not typical. I also have to take Benzodiazepines which just erase huge slabs of memory.

I should like a unified brain, but its more like civil war sometimes, and its my very real neck on the block should I loose a serious battle. Never a dull day...

Ps. Thanx for unifying the two threads.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Serpent on December 29th, 2018, 1:15 pm 

Event Horizon » December 29th, 2018, 11:41 am wrote:
Maybe its just my own mind that's faulty, and my experiences are not typical. I also have to take Benzodiazepines which just erase huge slabs of memory.

Hey, don't be blaming the victim! Do you expect a car to function the same way after it's crashed into an abutment? It's not faulty - it's injured.

I should like a unified brain, but its more like civil war sometimes, and its my very real neck on the block should I loose a serious battle. Never a dull day...

There is quite a lot you can do to affect repairs, but there is still a strong possibility of permanent damage. In that case - and also in the meantime - you can work on coping and managing strategies.
Are you getting competent help and emotional support?
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Event Horizon on December 29th, 2018, 1:34 pm 

No. I find the competence of some MH professionals is sooo poor that I'd rather risk it on my own. But I'm okay. I'm between relapses atm, with my BPD and ideation flaring up independently or together with other things. My diagnosis massed is "Mixed state 6.2" which contain my various diagnoses.

The guys above have not experienced a subversive mind perhaps, and cannot perhaps see it the same way.

I'm pretty reclusive I guess. I have a preference for being alone mostly. No MH people venture out here on my account thankfully.
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Re: Legion

Postby Event Horizon on December 29th, 2018, 2:03 pm 

This is how I came to own a demon.

In the beginning, there was chaos. But the chaos got diagnosed, and I was glad to know what demons I was fighting.
The fighting was hard, the demons were many and powerful. So I grouped up all the little demons and constructed one big demon. All the unwanted thoughts and ideas I got I could blame on my demon.
Easier to fight one than many.
But over untold years my demon went from being a construct to an independent entity.
He is called Legion, after a demonic incident by the Galilee in Christs time.
And he causes all manner of trouble. Really serious trouble sometimes. He even has his own, dark humour now.
My head is downright treasonous at times, I should take it out and shoot it!
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Re: Legion

Postby Serpent on December 29th, 2018, 3:57 pm 

Event Horizon » December 29th, 2018, 1:03 pm wrote:This is how I came to own a demon.

In the beginning, there was chaos. But the chaos got diagnosed, and I was glad to know what demons I was fighting.
The fighting was hard, the demons were many and powerful. So I grouped up all the little demons and constructed one big demon. All the unwanted thoughts and ideas I got I could blame on my demon.
Easier to fight one than many.

I wonder about that; sometimes you get better result taking on one small challenge at a time. But they're your demons; nobody else knows them.

My head is downright treasonous at times, I should take it out and shoot it!

Bad idea!
Here's a notion I borrowed from that friend I mentioned earlier. They characterized their demon as The Negative - a sort of shadowy, disapproving entity that loomed over them, second-guessing every decision, finding fault with every action, predicting failure in every endeavour, belittling every original thought.
Anyway, after the rock analogy, whenever the person felt anxious, the recurring nightmare was of balloon, flying sometimes in stormy weather, sometimes over mountains with jagged peaks. In order to relieve the anxiety, the person would find the cargo of black rocks and start throwing them overboard, one at a time. The Negative would come and tell them how futile this was; that the balloon would crash in the end.
I suggested they use that recently discovered knack of lucid dreaming: next time The Negative starts carping, turn on it and say "Shut up and toss that rock overboard." It worked --- I say this cautiously, since they've still got a long way to go --- nevertheless, it seems to be working. The Negative has since developed a face and can sometimes - though not consistently or reliably - be recruited to help with a problem.

After all, The Negative is not a separate entity, any more than Legion is. He's part of the same mind and probably longs to be reunited, just like East and West Germany. Any chance you can turn him?

BTW - for my friend, a peer support group was more helpful than professional councelling. Also music therapy. For some people, it's working with animals or hiking or art.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Event Horizon on December 29th, 2018, 8:49 pm 

I usually find that in hospital it's the patients that get me through the worst of it. But I'm ok and Legion seems to be fairly well behaved for now. I collect bladed things, and having bought a Katana a while back he's been noticeably more relaxed. I guess it all feeds in from my hypervigilance, which again is an unconscious thing.
It gets complicated in here even without the help of a rouge construct! But its nice to have something to blame all those unwanted thoughts and imagery on!

If my ideas sometimes seem a little crazy, well, technically I am crazy. And I got a crazy thing for all things scientific. I don't mind that bit!
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Serpent on December 29th, 2018, 9:51 pm 

Looks like you've got got your coping mechanism in place.
All the same -- NO SHOOTING THE HEAD - OK?
(and no collecting pearl-handled straight razors)
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby doogles on December 30th, 2018, 5:39 pm 

Serpent - "One time, I made a total ass of myself, staring up at a 5-gallon container on top of a laboratory cabinet, spraying a fine jet of 95% alcohol, because the hose had slipped off the tap. I knew that I knew exactly what should be done, but could not recollect it. When we are unprepared, deliberate, selective information-retrieval may be blocked. Stress and and shock sometimes have the same effect."

I've had similar experiences and my working theory is that the sudden shot of adrenaline shunts off your cognitive blood supply so that more blood can be channelled to the muscles, cardiovascular and glucose-producing mechanisms. I believe it's part of a 'fixed action pattern' response.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby doogles on December 30th, 2018, 5:41 pm 

Neuro - "As for the difficulty in distinguishing memories from dreams/thoughts/fantasies, as mentioned by Edy, an important projection from the brainstem to associative sensory cortices (involving serotonin) has the function of telling our brain if something we visualize is out there (real) or generated by endogenous activity (imagination). Any drug or situation that influences our mental state or interferes with serotonin action can deceive this mechanism. This also is the basis of hallucinations."

I'm at a stage when the thought of doing something, particularly taking a vitamin or something, is as real as actually taking it. I keep a record of supplements I take along with my daily blood pressure recording. I sometimes record what I intend to take before doing so, with the result that if I get sidetracked by anything, I'm not quite sure whether I have actually taken the tablet or just had a thought to take it. I believe this is the rationale for the use of Webster Packs in medicine.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby doogles on December 30th, 2018, 5:46 pm 

Event Horizon - "I can sometimes feel my subconscious working on something, although what its working on often remains a mystery. Why doesn't it want me to know what its doing? What's it hiding? And why do my conscious mind and subconscious mind have separate agendas apparently?"


I have become very good at introspection since I was about 50, when a new friend had the habit of asking me "What are you thinking?" Up till that time, I was not aware that I day-dreamed continuously. I believe that we are so good at it that we are not aware that we are doing it. I tend to do it in short scenarios -- something in the nature of segments of short movies -- each lasting any time from seconds to minutes -- with an element in one triggering an association for the next. I have been able to trace back up to seven of these scenarios. But I would have had no idea that I was doing this subconsciously if I did not have that friend asking me what I was thinking. I can give an example of sequences of scenarios if anyone is interested. I'm inclined to believe that the only times we think consciously (outside of work situations) is when we are participating in a forum such as this, or when we are at meetings or think tanks or solving new problems. An imagery scientist named Klinger once suggested that you need an accomplice to realise this. Someone has to prompt you when you appear to be day-dreaming (Staring into the middle distance), to stop and recall what you were thinking. Then you try to recall what previous scenario in you mind triggered the current one and so on. As I said, I can now re-trace up to seven scenarios in a row, and often the external image that originally triggered the train of scenarios.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Serpent on December 30th, 2018, 6:04 pm 

Webster packs would be those pre-counted tablets in plastic bubbles on a sheet of paper?
Our pharmacy prepares several mountains of them every week - that's an awful lot of air pollution and tree death to produce instant landfill!
I know they're meant to be recyclable, but someone who can't remember to take their pills probably can't remember to take the paper and plastic apart for separate containers - that's if their waste actually is recycled.

Why not get a weekly pill dispenser and record immediately after taking it?
Anyway, old people who keep a log of anything always have to do it right at the moment or they'll forget. I should know, it takes me five tips to the bulletin board to get "peanut butter" written up on the shopping list - on the first three, I feed a cat, wash out my brushes, find the glasses I stopped looking for an hour ago when I was distracted by recalling that I had to turn on the grow-lights; the fourth, I'm diverted to the washroom.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby doogles on December 30th, 2018, 8:58 pm 

Yes Serpent. You've described the Webster packs.

My first wife was chronically ill in the 1970s -- the days before Webster Packs. I had to set out something like 16 plastic vials of tablets to ensure that they were taken as prescribed. That was enough for four doses for each of four days. And it was done simply because it seems impossible for our brains to remember to perform serial functions on a regular basis, and also IMO because it is difficult to distinguish a visual plan to do something and the actual doing of it (if a delay occurs).

You were 'spot on' in my book when you said "old people who keep a log of anything always have to do it right at the moment or they'll forget". And I'm not sure that it applies just to old people. With Webster Packs and the like, you set the items out in a timed system beforehand and if one dosage is missing, you can be fairly sure that you have taken it.

The type of material used for the packs is another matter, but the principle of the packs is a good one to compensate for one of those brain betrayals that EH is talking about.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Serpent on December 30th, 2018, 11:29 pm 

The type of material used for the packs is another matter, but the principle of the packs is a good one to compensate for one of those brain betrayals that EH is talking about.

I do believe the concept is helpful to some people who need a large number of medications at specific intervals and are somehow handicapped so as to make it difficult for them to use another system. I do think the same idea could be made more ecologically friendly, but my main objection is that the system is made available to anyone who simply wants the convenience. It's a huge extra load on the people who dispense drugs (no extra pay, natch!) as well as irresponsibly wasteful.
For people with a reasonable array of medications, there are perfectly good, cheap, reusable containers of various types and configuration. More can be devised as needed. And those of us who have a few scattered brain lacunae, but are not yet incapacitated, can devise solutions for our specific needs.
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Re: The Subversive Mind

Postby Event Horizon on January 3rd, 2019, 10:57 pm 

Yes, you both follow me exactly. I'm sorry you've had to experience this, or worse, a loved one experiencing MH problems.
I perhaps should have framed my OP better, but tbh, those of us with subversive minds are so used to it that we assume it's normal.
Thanx for the feedback.
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