How are some lost memories recalled? How come we only remember when something reminds us?

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For example I was searching for a song. I knew the name but couldn’t remember it and when I read its name I remembered! How can this be? I know it, I know that I know it, but my brain can’t recall it.

However, a different example would be smell or taste. Sometimes I can taste or smell something and recognise it but not know what it is or where it’s from. It’s so weird. Then eventually I remember and it’s almost a surprise how I didn’t get there faster.

In: Biology
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Long Term Memory involves an initial “encoding” stage, followed by a biochemical “consolidation” stage, and at future times they’re accessed in a separate “retrieval” stage.

So it’s not wrong to use an analogy of items in filing cabinets, where the stored materials can be “right there” but also “lost” until you follow enough clues to locate them.

Sometimes we need external memory cues; sometimes we’ll latch onto a memory cue in related memories, after a lot of rumination.

A lot of these cues are unconscious associations. Smells in particular are processed in primitive (limbic) brain structures that make the smell associations feel mysterious and linked to emotional states.