It was a moment when West Ham’s score in October 1974 might have been recalled. A snatch of a tune and a few words of the lyrics had become an ear-worm that would not go away. It had become annoying because a complete inability to sing meant that the tune could not be shared and the only words remembered were “sad face” and “come up to my place,” hardly much of a clue.
As slight as the information was, it was sufficient to allow Google to work dentify the song and the band, “Mental as anything”, and to offer a video of the song being performed. Having no memory of either the group or where the song might have been heard, the mystery Google could not solve was why the song had become an ear-worm.
Do shreds of memory float around in our brains, suddenly breaking the surface for no explicable reason? Might it just as easily have been something altogether different that made persistent demands for attention?
A moment in the early-1990s was revisited. A lecture room in Belfast where an Open University psychology lecturer was talking about memory. He suggested that it might be possible that the brain retained everything we ever heard. The problem, he said, was in recalling the information from the depths of the memory.
Wanting clarification, I had asked him a silly question. “Does this mean that if I listened to the football results on the radio in October 1974, somewhere in the depths of may brain are all of West Ham’s scores?”
“That’s the theory”, he said.
It is an intriguing thought, the thought that everything we have ever heard, everything we have ever seen, everything we have ever read, might be remembered, if only there was the capacity to recall the information. With the progress in neurological science we must eventually reach the point where the measurable electrical impulses in the brain can be read and translated into information by an external monitor. If the messages sent by the neuro-transmitters could be read, then it could become possible to perform “searches” of the brain, to extract memories. It could become possible to recover the memory from which a particular shred has come, to piece together entire narratives.
Perhaps the prospect would be alarming, would we really want an external electronic device that could discern our deepest thoughts? Perhaps it would be a boon to the investigation of crime, people might really disclose the whole truth.
Given our propensity to employ every technological process for entertainment, neuro-Googling would probably be chiefly used in pub quizzes and arguments with friends about pop songs.
As for the West Ham scores in October 1974: a 2-2 draw with Derby County; a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Fulham; 1-1 draws with Coventry and Everton; a 1-0 victory over Ipswich Town; and a 3-0 defeat against Arsenal. None of us in that lecture room a quarter of a century ago could have anticipated what Google could discover in 0.6 seconds. Connected to a human brain, Google might do all sorts of unpredictable things.