Fiendish puzzles remind me that memory works in mysterious ways
‘Mankind!” I mumbled to my startled husband, before going back to sleep. I wasn’t sleep-talking. In fact, it was a moment of pure, unalloyed lucidity.
You see, I had gone to bed mulling a codeword puzzle – like a crossword in which each letter has been assigned a number. You are given three of the letters to start off and from that have to work out the whole alphabet. I had gone to sleep unable to think of a single word that could fit around the letters given. Then, in the middle of the night, my unconscious brain found the answer.
This has happened repeatedly since I bought a book of the puzzles last week. I’ve woken up blinded by revelations: not “magnesium”: “magnetism”! It’s definitely “minim”! I haven’t thought about minims since I last took a piano lesson, about two decades ago. Somehow, though, the word was in there, stored on the hard drive.
There is one part of remembering that you choose. It’s the moment when you don’t assume that you can’t remember something, cast your net wide, grope carefully towards the cloud of facts that might contain a clue.
Then there is the other part that is involuntary: the process that takes over once you’re busy or asleep. Its workings are mysterious, but its results appear with total clarity, like a shiny button dropped on your doorstep by a magpie. You wake up and there it is. It’s best not to question the gift, but pick it up and be glad.
Scientists at MIT have published a paper arguing that it will soon be possible to shoot a laser beam of such power into space that it could attract attention from aliens up to 20 light years away. With such a beam acting as a “planetary porch light”, we could send signals that would indicate our presence to extraterrestrials and perhaps persuade them to visit.
I’m sure the technology behind this is ingenious but it is an exceptionally bad idea. If successful, the overwhelmingly likely result would be our colonisation by a more advanced alien race. Please, can we just reserve the giant lasers for particle accelerators and Bjork concerts?
The serendipity of memory is a great gift when you’re struggling to complete a brain teaser