Tag Archives: Memory

The importance of committing facts to memory

19 May

In an article in last week’s New York Times, we find this:

The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

Regular readers know that I think this fundamentally misguided. Knowledge remains and will remain essential to negotiating the world. To see why let’s turn to another article in the Times: “If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They’re More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy.”

Here’s the map of where the surveyed individuals placed North Korea.

nkorea map

According to the Times:

Geographic knowledge itself may contribute to an increased appreciation of the complexity of geopolitical events.

By the way the quadratic equation is not that hard to learn.

Memory athlete Dave Farrow

8 May

Dave Farrow demonstrates card memorization and gives a few memory tips.

Preventing loss of detailed memory

5 May

A paper published in the journal Learning & Memory

Episodic memories undergo qualitative changes with time, but little is known about how different aspects of memory are affected. Different types of information in a memory, such as perceptual detail, and central themes, may be lost at different rates. In patients with medial temporal lobe damage, memory for perceptual details is severely impaired, while memory for central details is relatively spared. Given the sensitivity of memory to loss of details, the present study sought to investigate factors that mediate the forgetting of different types of information from naturalistic episodic memories in young healthy adults. The study investigated (1) time-dependent loss of “central” and “peripheral” details from episodic memories, (2) the effectiveness of cuing with reminders to reinstate memory details, and (3) the role of retrieval in preventing forgetting. Over the course of 7 d, memory for naturalistic events (film clips) underwent a time-dependent loss of peripheral details, while memory for central details (the core or gist of events) showed significantly less loss. Giving brief reminders of the clips just before retrieval reinstated memory for peripheral details, suggesting that loss of details is not always permanent, and may reflect both a storage and retrieval deficit. Furthermore, retrieving a memory shortly after it was encoded prevented loss of both central and peripheral details, thereby promoting retention over time. We consider the implications of these results for behavioral and neurobiological models of retention and forgetting.

I have underlined the take away message. In other words, short term retrieval practice aids long term memory.

 

Tip of Tongue: Dreamland Edition

12 Apr

Last night I dreamed that I had a tip of the tongue experience. Tip of the tongue states are situations where you forget some piece of information, but have a strong sense that you actually know it. Often the information comes to you later in the absence of any outside reminder, strong evidence that the information was there all along.

In my dream, I could not recall the name of a university administrator I was meeting with. I experienced it just like a real TOT state. On waking, I not only remembered the dream, but I also had no problem recalling the administrator’s name. The TOT experience was completely confined to my dream.

This reminds me a bit of the phenomenon of state dependent memory, where a person’s physiological state serves as a memory cue. For example, some people will learn a fact well drunk, forget it when sober, but recall it again when inebriated. This was a central plot point in Chaplain’s film, City Lights.

People who never forget

5 Apr

Read about them in this Guardian article.

In honor of Pi Day

14 Mar

By the way, I am much more impressed by someone who recites pi with eyes closed than by someone wearing a blindfold, since blindfolds can be easily gimmacked.

Ben Carson on memory

10 Mar

By all accounts Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is a talented neurosurgeon. But he seems to be surprisingly ill informed about modern memory science:

…on Monday, he told a factually wrong parable about the brain. Specifically, Carson said, the brain was incapable of forgetting and could be electrically stimulated into perfect recall — a statement that, even though made by one of the most famous former neurosurgeons alive, was far more fiction than science.

It came in an anecdote meant to motivate the federal employees, a bit Carson developed on the public speaking circuit. He described the brain’s surprising power as a way to show the audience that they were more capable than they believed.

Except his description did not hit the mark. “It remembers everything you’ve ever seen. Everything you’ve ever heard. I could take the oldest person here, make a little hole right here on the side of the head,” Carson said, circling his left temple with a finger, “and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus and stimulate. And they would be able to recite back to you, verbatim, a book they read 60 years ago. It’s all there. It doesn’t go away. You just have to learn how to recall it.”

Here’s the story in the Washington Post.

The insinuation that Carson could zap a patient into reciting, from cover to cover, a book read in 1957 was not true, experts said.

“Using electrodes placed in the human brain to implant memories or to recall forgotten memories is simply not possible at this time,” Darin Dougherty, a psychiatrist and the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s neurotherapeutics division, told Gizmodo.

Dan Simons, a University of Illinois psychologist who studies attention and memory, told Wired that Carson’s claim was “utter nonsense.” Simons said it failed on nearly all counts: Humans cannot recall large swaths of text unless memorized for that purpose. Doctors cannot force patients to remember anything in crystal detail, even with deep brain stimulation. No human brain holds within it “a perfect and permanent record of our experiences,” the psychologist said.

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