Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just for fun

The more I read and learn about human memory, the more respect I have for its importance.  However, there are all sorts of memory, from remembering what my grandmother's face looked like to remembering where my clean socks are kept. Procedural memory, like how to tie my shoe, has been found to persist longer than declarative memory such as George Washington's birthplace.  "The Seven Sins of Memory by Daniel Schacter" is one of many good books on memory.

I have learned to ask "How much?" when I hear that treatment A is better than treatment B.  If A is very expensive or dangerous or tedious or drawn out, the difference might not be worthwhile.  Treatment B might be good enough.  Sometimes, it is so near in effectiveness to A that in practical terms, they are indistinguishable.  So, the other day, when I read in one of the blogs I follow, that there was an easy way to improve declarative memory in some cases, I was interested.  I did the whole thing: I read the article, found information on the effect size, looked up the authors in case there were books or updates on the research.  

In 1973, two researchers asked a group of students to practice memorizing a list of words by studying them repeatedly.  They asked a different group to work at remembering something pleasant associated with each word in the list.  The pleasant group was found to remember twice as much as the study group, something like 70% v. 35%.  Impressive results.  

Sometimes friends ask how I can remember so much of what I read.  I'm not sure I can remember all that much but I do know that I have developed the habit of reading what I am interested in, what gives me pleasure, a feeling of Wow! or chuckles from the cleverness of the language or the wryness of the sentiment expressed.  

The subject of memory is a big part of thinking about schooling, education and training.  We generally think of school as a place there things are learned and hopefully remembered.  Books such as Howard Gardner's "The Unschooled Mind" make clear that students can earn an A on a test and not remember enough 30 days after the test to even pass it.  We may think that reading a book is pointless if we don't remember what we read or even if we read that book.

Whether reading or listening to a "Great Course", I don't especially care about trying to remember the information.  I prefer to be impressed by it, to hear that Charlemagne was a great leader and king but couldn't read and always planned and hoped to learn.  I am impressed to learn that India and Korea both place images of great thinkers and philosophers on their money, not just politicians.  I know the Puritans and many other branches of most religions cautioned against too much pleasure but I like pleasures.  They are a good guide and a major factor in living.  That's probably why God gave them to us.

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