I’m reading a fascinating book about memory and brain science – How We Learn (Random House, 2014) by Benedict Carey. A science journalist for the New York Times, Carey takes all kinds of scientific research and psychological studies, smashing them together as he asks the question of how (best) our brains work throughout the learning process. As it turns out, the brain is pretty fascinating.
[The brain] registers far more than we’re conscious of and often adds previously unnoticed details when revisiting a memory or learned fact…It has a strong preference for meaning over randomness, and finds nonsense offensive…If the brain is a learning machine, then it’s an eccentric one.
Some crazy things about the brain and memory:
Forgetting is good. Carey quotes UCLA psychologist Robert Bjork saying “forgetting is a friend to learning.” Or, when we re-collect our memories, our brain allows us to filter out (“forget”) those things we don’t need so we can more easily find those things we do need. Later, Carey says that “forgetting is critical to the learning of new skills.”
Memories don’t disappear. They decay and distance themselves from retrieval. According to Carey, we don’t really forget anything; those memories just get woven and buried in a series and systems full of other memories. They may be irretrievable (or, more properly, very difficult to retrieve) but they’re there, somewhere.
The brain has endless storage space. There’s plenty of room in our brains. Enough, Carey says, “to record every second of a long life, cradle to grave.”
Memory involves both retrieval and storage. Some memories are high in retrieval strength (it’s easy to remember quickly) and others are high in storage strength (you won’t forget this. It’s packed nice and neat and you always know where it is). The stronger memories are high in retrieval and storage. The worst are low in both, but most are somewhere in between.
Memorize for 1/3 and rehearse for 2/3. The best studies show that knowledge is most deeply engrained and retrievable (for a test or performance or speech) when you spend 33% of your time with rote memorization and the rest rehearsing and practicing what you studied. Recite it, write it out, dance through your program. Just don’t sit and look at the book all day.
Oh, and memorize in different rooms with different background noises at different times with different people around. All those distractions will double up the pairings and connections made by your brain and will increase retrievability of those names, dates, and facts.
Fascinating book, encourage you to check it out.
Even more fascinating brains we have, encourage you to use yours well.
The above quotes are from a pre-publication copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.