Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Conduct a Memory Dig to Unearth Knowledge

Photo by Leo HarderRecently I read this very interesting article on memory that intrigued me with its assertion that memory improves by attempting to memorize *harder* things, that which is hard to come to mind. I'm surprised I didn't think about that myself.

As previously mentioned, I'm very fond of the Tell Me Everything You Know technique, which is essentially a mnemonic technique wherein you recall the learnings of the day. The thing the articles points out that I missed is that by writing in the items that easily leap to mind means that I'm not really making *additional* progress in learning. That is, I'm not challenging my memory sufficiently to actually get better; sticking to recalling easy things means you've already mastered them.

This makes sense from a neurological level. In order for the brain to rewire itself and improve intellectually it needs an incentive to, and the incentive is challenge. Challenge to the brain tells it that it needs to adapt in order to better cope with this challenge, thereafter rewiring will take place. It is, in a sense, like the brain is saying, "Oh, you struggle with that particular function? Well, through your repetitions I see that you need it, so I'll rewire myself to enable you to do it better next time."

In practical terms, that means if we want better memory we ought to challenge ourselves with the difficult task of digging for the memories. The harder it is to recall something, the more pressed the brain will be to rewire itself to better memorize that type of material.

Put to actual practice, I would suggest doing a kind of "Memory Dig" exercise after important material you're trying to learn. For me, for instance, my own plan is to get out my journal of scrap paper whenever I do a significant intellectual activity, like read a book, and press myself intensely to thoroughly recall and write the most significant parts of the material in the best detail possible. I'm not sure about the specifics of the practice -- perhaps I'll put "Memory Dig" on my projects list for a reading assignment, and I'm also unsure whether to impose a time limit -- but experiments always tell all in the end.

However, I'm going to seperate this out of the Tell Me Everything You Know practice in order to make the habit manageable and not exhaustively ambitious, otherwise the habit would collapse. The difference is that the Memory Dig would attempt to be as exhaustive as possible in detail while the Tell Me Everything You Know journal simply summarizes the day's learning in the form of concisely written cues to prompt the memory.

Us good autodidacts cannot forget a good memory is essential to learning. Though, it's not the *same* as learning, for it's the mere retention of material; true learning is integrating information, drawing connections, mastering mental methods, and so forth. For an excellent book on how the memory works and how to improve it, check out the book nearly by the same title.

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