Hey dude, have you ever heard the word ‘Mnemonics’? Any idea at all, what it means?” Bunty asked me arrogantly. This is typical of him. He is always full of himself, and has a nasty habit of looking down upon everyone else. But I was not going to take it lying down this time. So I told him, ‘Mnemonics’ is the art of, or a system for, improving memory. The word is of Greek origin.
The ancient Greeks believed that there are two types of memory — natural and artificial, and although you can’t do much about your natural memory, you can greatly improve your artificial memory with the help of Mnemonics.”
I thought this would silence Bunty, then and there. But I was wrong. “Oh, thank God! I don’t have to start from the basics, then,” he gave a sigh of relief, and went on, “I have been working on Mnemonics for quite some time now, and have just come out with an epoch-making theory, even better than Mnemonics. Once proved, it has the potential of changing the very course of human life, like never before!”
“Wow, I appreciate your great scientific mind!” I said sarcastically. But there was no visible effect of my remark on Bunty. He looked almost as excited with his discovery as Archimedes must have looked, when he jumped out of his bathtub shouting “Eureka, I’ve got it.” So, not even waiting for any remotely favourable signal from me, he started postulating his novel theory.
“You see, every time a person goes to sleep, there invariably occurs that fine, delicate, almost fleeting stage when he is not fully awake, but not fully asleep either. That, precisely, is the most important stage from the psychological point of view.” Bunty was bubbling with the pure joy of scientific discovery. “Whatever is heard during that particular stage is remembered forever. That, in a nutshell, is my new theory. And here, I need help from genuine friends like you!”
Frankly, this unusually modest sentence of his did surprise me a bit.
“I don’t quite get you,” I said, a little confused. “What help do you want from me?”
“The very essence of the scientific method is that the theory has to be proved by real-life experiments, with real people, in real-life situations,” Bunty explained. “I’m going to carry out this experiment scientifically, and I need you to read out an unknown piece of prose to me. I would also require three or four sincere and watchful friends as witnesses in this extremely important endeavour, along with you.” He elaborated thoughtfully.
“Done,” I said.
In the evening, we were at Bunty’s flat. He lay down on his comfortable bed. I held a paper with a small piece of prose written on it, and three others stood in rapt attention by the side. The experiment began; I started reading out the passage. When I came half way, I looked at Bunty. Somehow, I got a feeling that he had already crossed that crucial stage of semi-sleep. But what if he had not? By stopping to read, I might just wake him up, I thought, and the experiment would fail. By my rash action, the world of science would be deprived of an important and novel discovery. So, I went on reading. But when I finally heard Bunty snoring loudly and unmistakably, I stopped. We all got up, locked the door, and quietly went home.
The next morning when we were together again, we eagerly asked Bunty what he remembered. His face was blank. We tried again. Finally, he asked, “What passage? Did you read out anything yesterday?”
There was some uneasy silence.
It was clear that Bunty fell asleep the moment he lay on the bed. Apparently, he never reached that delicate stage of semi-sleep, and so, didn’t remember a word of what I was so sincerely reading. As I myself was fully awake all the time, I remembered the passage very well. The witnesses, who were also awake, remembered most of it.
Did Bunty’s theory fail then?
There was an emphatic ‘NO’ from Bunty. “I had never said who would remember the piece of prose, forever. You all remember it very well, don’t you? Well, friends! My theory is perfect,” he declared.
One question that may perhaps never be answered is what role was played by the sleeping person in the whole experiment? We would have surely remembered what I read, without him or his theory!
Obviously, Bunty had casually read some stray psychological findings, and had the audacity to claim them as his own sensational discovery. True to his highly inflated self-esteem, he had started imagining himself to be in the illustrious company of Newton, Einstein, and the like. He was convinced that he was, indeed, born to ‘change the very course of human life, like never before’ but, instead, fell asleep during the ‘greatest scientific experiment’ of his career.
Bunty, of course, is not the only one so conceited and pompous. The world is replete with people who like to bask in their own vanity fairs!
(The author is an entrepreneur and founder trustee of Arbutus, an NGO working in Education for Sustainable Development. He lives in Pune. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)