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Monday, March 28, 2011

Brains Rewired? Part One

(If you must have politics, please scroll down)

For decades now, education experts have disparaged rote memory. Now, of course, we educators emphasize critical thinking skills. How critical thinking can occur without knowledge of the salient facts escapes me. But that argument is an argument for a different day.

For the purposes of this post, let us consider what is happening to both our culture and our gray matter by neglecting to use our memory cells.

From this book review in the Washington Post:
...These days, it seems, we hardly remember anything. We have gadgets that do it for us: day planners, GPS devices, cellphones that log every number we've ever called, tiny motherboards with gargantuan gigabyte capacities. We're lucky if we know five telephone numbers by heart. A recent survey revealed that a third of all British citizens under age 30 couldn't remember their home phone numbers without checking their mobiles. Thirty percent couldn't remember the birthdays of more than three family members.

But the devaluation of memory has deeper cultural implications: Fully two-thirds of American teenagers do not know when the Civil War occurred; one-fifth don't have a clue whom we fought in World War II. Why waste brain cells on remembering when we can summon facts so easily on our cellphones?

Now comes science writer Joshua Foer - a formerly absent-minded young man who became the 2006 U.S. memory champion - to argue that in exchange for scientific progress, we may have traded away our most valuable human resource.


Devalued though human memory has become, it is what makes us who we are. Our memories, Foer tells us, are the seat of civilization, the bedrock of wisdom, the wellspring of creativity. His passionate and deeply engrossing book, "Moonwalking With Einstein," means to persuade us that we shouldn't surrender them to integrated circuits so easily....
Read the entire article HERE.

Certainly, we can "conserve" our gray matter's memory banks, and Google-search facts instead of remembering them. Let us also remember, however, that online material can be edited or disappear entirely.

Furthermore, perhaps something else insidious is afoot in the melding of education and technology. I will discuss that aspect in "Brains Rewired? Part Two."


  1. I used to do logic puzzles, and play games like Trivial Pursuit, partly because i enjoyed them, but mostly because of my philosophy, which I believe was original:

    "You have to exercise your brain like you exercise your body. Your body without exercise becomes fat and flabby. So does your brain."

    And you're right. Since technology has literally put knowledge at our fingertips, I feel I am losing my ability to think.

    I had something else in mind but I've forgotten what it was.

  2. This is absolutely correct AOW. We don't have to remember anything, we have our gadgets that 'auto fill' so all we need to remember are the first couple letters of an address or name.

    As people grow older they are always encouraged to read, study, memorize, to help prevent Alzheimers and dementia

    Writing things down has been proven to help memory, but people no longer 'write', they type.

    Right Truth

  3. Interesting article. The memory techniques give us a clue on why we remember some incidents and not others. Seems the more vivid or or interesting an incident was, the more likely we are to remember it.

    I wonder what relying on these digital devices has done to our short term memories as it relates to the ability to follow a line of argumentation and its attendant chain of logic?

  4. The mural, created by local artist Judy Taylor, depicts various scenes from Maine's labor history, including "Rosie the Riveter" at Bath Iron Works and a paper mill workers' strike in 1986.

    Just as an aside, AOW. Maine's governor,Tea Party elected with 30% of the vote and unlikely to be re-elected, figured Rosie didn't belong in the Labor Dept. building and had the mural removed.
    Thought you might find it interesting.

  5. Debbie said:

    Writing things down has been proven to help memory, but people no longer 'write', they type.

    Simply put, writing and saying something at the same time forces the crossing of the corpus callosum, thus facilitating the transference of data from short term memory to long term memory. The act of typing does not cross the midline (corpus callosum). Furthermore, the size of the medium written upon can have an effect on the transference and the memorization of the data.

    It is estimated that when we write and speak something at the same time, that material will be at least 80% retained long term. Long term can be a subjective period of time, of course.

  6. Silverfiddle,
    That other day at your site, I said that neurology is one of my hobbies. See my above comment citing Debbie's observation. I didn't have to consult any web sites for the information -- other than putting in that link to Wikipedia.

  7. As some of you have pointed out, our brain itself is particularly susceptible to "use it or lose it."

  8. By the way, neurologists are still trying to figure out exactly what the corpus callosum does and is capable of doing.

    I did once have a student with a severely damaged corpus callosum (brain tumor, which had been excised). She could remember little learned in the classroom, but she had a sizable singing repertoire.

  9. Silverfiddle,
    I wonder what relying on these digital devices has done to our short term memories as it relates to the ability to follow a line of argumentation and its attendant chain of logic?

    Shortened attention span!

  10. Duck,
    Is memory a matter of free will?

    To a certain extent, yes.

    Of course, techniques and organic matter play in significantly.

    I would say that memory is often a matter of focus.

    I'm speaking of memory, not memories. Memories are triggered by many different and subjective stimuli as well as being spontaneous or seemingly spontaneous.

  11. Mark,
    Technology is both friend and enemy.

    Go through a computer crash and find out just how much we rely on this machine for so much that we previously stored in a different way.

  12. Duck,
    About Rosie....I'm not quite sure that I understand the governor's reasoning in that decision.

  13. Oh, I forgot to mention that there are many different kinds of memory. Muscle memory is one that most of us using computers take for granted if we touch type. So is walking.

  14. Interesting, published today:

    Stories From Main Street: Montvale School Ditches Books, Chalkboards For Laptops

  15. I actually experienced a computer crash a couple of years ago. The only thing I lost that I really would have liked to keep was a half finished novel.

    It's OK, though, I had lost my continuity and was wondering how to continue anyway. No big loss except for the waste of the amount of time I put into it.

    One might say I was wasting my time anyway, even if I had finished it.

  16. I know that, in English, the kids who had to memorize poetry years ago had a better taste for the language...forget the great thing it did for memory cells! There's a music to poetry and that helped people somehow to understand all kinds of things about the English language and to be able to speak better in general, and write better.
    I have always thought that not memorizing dates and facts is a big mistake; imagine not knowing when the CIvil War was fought? Or when Israel because a country..etc.? How do you go from there to have any kind of thinking about those times, to use context, etc?
    good post, AOW, very thought provoking. I wish our kids memorized today.

  17. Excellent and disturbing post, AOW.

    As funny as the movie Idiocracy was, I'm believing more and more that it's prophesy rather than comedy.

  18. Duh....

    It is a matter of free will.

    Do yourself and your children a favor turn off the TV. It is the opium of our society and it is dumbing us down.

    Next take them out of the government schools. The government school setting is boring and does more harm in fostering a person's desire to learn than good.

  19. Gasp....

    You mean some Tea Party candidates may not be reelected. Oh my goodness then the movement is dead just dead....

    Give me a break. Use a critical thinking yourself. Its MAINE, friggin MAINE.

    The fact that the Tea Party got a conservative elected to anything higher than dog catcher is a miracle....

  20. Blogginator,
    Some of my homeschool students don't even have a television. Care to guess what kind of grades these students get? **smile**

  21. Z,
    Memorizing word for word was never easy for me -- unless it was memorizing lyrics to music.

    That said, you are correct to point out how important it is that students memorize poems, verses, speeches, etc. In the process of memorizing such things, students language skills DO improve!

  22. First of all, OUCH! That really does smart. But it is absolutely true. I believe I have maybe five phone numbers memorized.

    Time to get my crossword puzzle book out. Thank goodness I love to read.

  23. Good point AOW! In the past few years I have started doing logic puzzles in order to challenge the mind and improve my memory. Unfortunately the facts are either being removed or distorted for children in schools nowadays. Then the whole self-esteem industry has destroyed the challenge to know facts and their ability to critically think.


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