Total Recall: How to Boost Your Memory Power by Joan Minninger (Rodale Press: $15.95); Optimum Brain Power: A Total Program for Increasing Your Intelligence by Miriam Ehrenberg and Otto Ehrenberg (Dodd, Mead: $15.95).
The adult human brain, containing perhaps 100 billion neurons (about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way), has awesome capabilities.
So why, with this gigantic "computer" nestled neatly in the cranium, do we forget to pay the water bill, overlook the in-laws' anniversary or often feel we're losing our marbles?
Recall 'Gaslight' Scene
Conversely, how is it possible to suddenly re-create Ingrid Bergman's key scene in "Gaslight" or recall that the family's 1963 Nova station wagon cost $2,400 and its license plate was JAT278?
Remembering and forgetting are tricky affairs, as both these enjoyable books (in their wooing the goddess of memory, Mnemosyne) soon proved. Both also present fresh ways of looking at mental processes and exercises to sharpen retention of names, dates, facts and details.
In this age of specialization, Joan Minninger, a memory therapist, says we never forget anything. Every single scrap of information is in short- or long-term memory, safely filed somewhere "upstairs." But we fail to retrieve the desired item because of mechanical, emotional or physical blocks (alcohol, drugs, poor diet or senility).
We also possess three principal kinds of memory, Minninger says, doing our recollecting mainly through verbal, visual or kinesthetic approaches, though these often overlap.
Realizing that many of her exercises take more time to learn than rote memorization, Minninger is reassuring, reminding us that the world tolerates a certain number of mental lapses. Marilyn Monroe kept fluffing the line: "Where's the bourbon?" but continued her stellar career. And we've heard before that Albert Einstein, his mind on galactic matters, couldn't remember his home telephone number.
The Ehrenbergs in "Optimum Brain Power" focus on intelligence as an aspect of behavior, finding IQ--as determined by numerous current tests--something of a fallacy. Intelligence is a potential, a product of nurturing, and they see its manifestations in the "way we behave and relate to the world."
But because a demonstrable IQ is important, they are generous with information about how to prepare for these tests and assess their results.
'Why Not' Questions
One chapter on the power of thinking "negatively" examines the way creative, successful people (Columbus and Edward Jenner, discoverer of smallpox vaccine) turned from received opinion, asking instead the critical "why not" questions.
Concluding sections, touching on dreams, clairvoyance, telepathy and auric sight (the "invisible halo" surrounding living matter, which was identified by the Russians in Kirlian photography) explore the outer limits of the mind.