Tag Archives: Spaced repetition

Thoughts on memory books

23 Jun

There are, in general, two types of memory books: scientific studies of memory or self improvement books.

One of my hopes for this blog is to bridge the gap between these two types of literature.

This means that I take seriously many popular books on memory improvement. Writers such as Harry Lorayne, Domonic O’Brien, and Tony Buzan are not scientists but they have made real contributions to memory improvement and should not be ignored. When Harry Lorayne  wrote that “all knowledge and learning is based on connecting new things to things you already know”  he was writing from his own experience and from the tradition of memory self-improvement. Yet, his observation is in keeping with the findings of modern memory science.  More over, Lorayne and others have demonstrated remarkable feats of memory that demand explanation and are worthy of scientific investigation. For example, Domonic O’Brien, once memorized 316 random digits in five minutes. His ability to memorize cards is so good that he has been banned from many casinos.

My only criticism of these popular books is their almost exclusive reliance on mnemonics. Now, mnemonics are a powerful technique that I use all the time, and I will certainly feature them in this blog. However, there are other techniques that are less well known, particularly spaced repetition learning that help us remember  many things that are not easily handled by mnemonics. You can try out spaced repetition learning at Memrise.

Memory Myth #1: “I have a terrible memory.”

19 Jun

You probably don’t. Unless you suffer from some memory disorder, such as amnesia, you most likely have an ordinary memory that can be used more effectively.

We usually have a very positive view of ourselves. When asked to compare themselves with others on such desirable traits as intelligence, generosity, or leadership skills, most people rate themselves as above average; a mathematical impossibility. There is even a name for this very human trait. It is called flawed self-assessment.

Athletic performance and memory are the exceptions. Most of us know we are not star athletes and most of us believe that we have poor memories. Perhaps this anomaly is caused by the nature of the feedback the world provides. Our friends loathe to set us straight about our generosity. They may feel it impolite to relate their true feelings about our intelligence. Athletic and memory feedback, however, come to us more directly. If we start the race thinking we can finish first, our expectation will soon be confirmed or disproved. Similarly, a memory failure can be direct, immediate, often visible to all, and, sometimes, deeply embarrassing . More over, as we get older, memory failure stirs up deep fears of mental frailty and impending senility.

I have good news. it is unlikely that you have a poor memory, rather you have a memory that can be improved. As you read through the better books on memory improvement, the authors will often tell you that they have quite ordinary powers of recall. Here is Dominic O’Brien making speaking about his memory:

I do not believe that this false modesty. Most of us can improve our memories with the application of well validated techniques. These techniques include mnemonic strategies, improved attention, and spaced repetition learning.

Stay tuned to this blog: all these techniques will be discussed in detail.

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