Your Mind Is An Iceberg, Each Thing You Know Is A Penguin

Michael Robert

And there’s only so much space on the iceberg

Deep within the recesses of my head lie the seeds of 1000 creative ambitions. The story of four kids who go camping in a fabled haunted woods. A dream I yearn to translate to ink that’ll never live up to the detail in my mind. The desire to create electronic music. My latent need to learn another language.

Those 1000 ambitions are penguins. They’re accompanied by another penguin for everything I know. And they all live on an iceberg floating in my mind. This mind iceberg is finite in size — space is limited.

Years ago, a friend made a joke about this idea. That your brain can only handle knowing so much, that it was the iceberg and your learned things are penguins. Each time you learn something else, you’ve got to kick off another penguin.

It makes perfect sense.

If you consider that you’ve spent your life learning things each and every day, you grasp that your iceberg is in fact quite big. It’s filled with penguins — millions of them.

And each penguin can be called upon to share its knowledge when needed. But, as you age, your max out the capacity on the iceberg. And when you reach capacity, it’s time to say goodbye to some penguins.

But, the penguins aren’t just hanging out randomly, much like penguins in real life, they huddle in a tight cluster to stay warm and safe, shuffling around, some pushed to the outside, shielding the others. They’re in a waddle (technical term).
Photo by Martin Wettstein on Unsplash

The penguins in the middle are safe, they aren’t going anywhere. These penguins are the staples of your mind, the things you never forget.

  • How to ride a bike
  • How to stand up
  • How to drive a car
  • Your first kiss
  • The lyrics to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song
  • The opening scene of your favorite movie
  • The riff to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  • Where you were when you met your partner for the first time
  • The order of release of every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie (this might just be me)

These penguins are forever packed in the middle, shuffling around, but never pushed to the outside. You’ll never forget them.

Then, you’ve got the next layer. The things you know, but don’t use on a regular basis.

  • The Pythagorean Theorem
  • How to iron a shirt
  • The name of your boy/girlfriend in 9th grade, but not the one who you got to second base with
  • The lyrics to that song you mostly know
  • The plot to Superbad

These are the penguins that keep our precious forever memory penguins safe. They are the guardians of the long-term memory space on the iceberg.

Then, there are the new penguins. The new things you’ve learned recently.

  • How to make an Instagram story
  • The current roster of your favorite team
  • Where you put your keys
  • Your child’s birthday
  • Your child’s social security number

Some of these things are penguins that you assign more importance to, these penguins are strong, versatile, relentless, and clever. They’ll make the way to the center, surrounded by comforting forevers like the name of your favorite childhood stuffed animal, Mr. Bear.

But some of these things, are not meant forever. They might stay on the iceberg for a short time.
Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash

Each time you learn something new, a raft of fresh memory penguins come swimming to your iceberg with such speed and tenacity, that when they launch themselves onto your memoryberg (trademark pending), the sheer impact drives the same number of penguins off on the other side - like when you shove too many things onto a packed table, knocking things in the back over.

Those penguins, whatever they were, are gone, instantly devoured by the ravenous memory-vacuum-like seals of your head. Sorry, penguins!

This is the human mind, a floating iceberg in the vast space of our minds.

And now that you know this, I have to apologize, because you just learned something new and I am responsible for having evicted another penguin from your memoryberg.

This has been my TEDTalk.


Fact: Tina Fey became the first female head writer for SNL in 1999.

There’s goes another penguin, ha!

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Minneapolis, MN

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