Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A new memory philosophy for a new year

Toward the end of last semester I’ve come across a different way of thinking about memory. It comes from an audio program from Vera Birkenbihl called Memory Optimizer.

She describes memory as construction: when you attempt to place a fact – say someone’s name – in your brain, you must first construct the idea of that name in your head. Every time that you recall this idea, you are reconstructing it in your mind.

The power of this idea lies in what it means for recalling or forgetting information. Previously, I thought that if I could not remember someone’s name, for example, it meant that I was stupid or inconsiderate. With the above memory philosophy, this is not the case. The person’s name is not available for me to recall, not because I am “stupid”, but instead because I did not construct it properly in the first place—I may not have heard/understood the name properly. So if I ask to hear the name clearly (maybe even a few times) and if I can associate it with something/someone familiar, I am much more likely to recall (reconstruct) their name in the future.

The quality of the reconstruction depends on the quality of the initial construction.

So we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we can’t remember something, it is simply a case of poor construction. This is one of the main points I wanted to make in this piece, so I’m going to reiterate it. Go easy on yourself when you can’t remember something. You are still an intelligent person and it is with this intelligence that you can improve your idea construction. Maybe it’s just me, but after coming across this simple philosophy, I felt extremely liberated. That’s why I felt that you should know it as well.

Now, now, in the wake of Danny’s post regarding independence and accountability, it would be remiss of me to say we should leave the poor construction the way it is. Once we see that our idea structure isn’t as well built as we want it to be, it is up to us to fill in those cracks. Again, this is why it is important to quiz yourself before an exam so expose and repair those cracks while you have the time. And there’s only one construction worker on this site, and he/she works just as hard as you do.

So put on that hard hat and bring on the spackle! This is going to be a good year for mental construction. I can smell it.

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