Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Learning to Remember

I had a giant of a man as a History teacher when I was 12. Besides his size, the thing I remember is that he taught me how to remember (I am visiting a friend who was in my class at the time and she also carried his technique all the way through her studies). We use lots of filler words when things are explained to us, or when we are explaining them. Being incredibly kind to ourselves, perhaps this is because we know we don't listen to most of what other people are saying. We just wait for our turn to speak. Maybe it is because most people who really understand ideas find understanding more ideas more appealing than explaining them. So communication becomes an afterthought.

Whatever the reason, you can normally summarise what is said. You can also connect ideas and use some of the tricks that make us remember things. Mr Simon taught us to create spider diagrams of ideas rather than chunks of text. To summarise the main ideas. You could then get to the keywords and create mnemonics to remember them. Coming up with rude rhymes to study was the most entertaining bit. I liked those hard covered A4 books and would fill the right hand page with my summaries, and then leave the left hand page blank. I could then come back and fill those pages with lists to memorise, or make additional notes when I understood things a little  better.


I was never a big fan of just reading because I would typically fall asleep, so writing the summaries gave my elephant something to do. Once I had done the summaries, I would summarise the summaries into 'super-summaries'. Then the super into super-super. This eventually allowed me to have a look at the whole subject on one page. I don't know how meaningful these summaries would have been to someone who hadn't actually made them. But they made my life easier.

I heard of Tony Buzan and Mind Maps at a later stage which was similar to Mr Simon's method but with lots of colour. The stuff I hadn't heard about at school or university takes it to a different level. If you have a kid of around 12 or more, do them and yourself a favour and buy them a copy of 'Moonwalking with Einstein' by Joshua Foer. Buy yourself a copy. 


Our minds are incredibly powerful at taking in information that matters to us. We have great visual and spatial memories. Think back to the house you grew up in. Can you close your eyes and walk around in it? We are also really good at remembering stuff that is rude, sexy or funny. The monks who came up with many of these memory techniques had an awkward time explaining their techniques to other monks. Half our problem remembering things we know is finding the memory. It is in there somewhere if it was meaningful, it just tends to get in a mess. It's on the tip of our tongue. We know we know it. We just can't find it.

We understand the world through stories and we remember things through links to other things. The stronger the links, the easier it is to recall. And when we are daydreaming and w(a/o)ndering around these links, we are able to make connections not even the world's most powerful computers can. Computers go through every possible solution there is. We only go through the ones that make sense to us. Our imperfections and biases make us blind and ignorant. This helps.

We have style. Style creates links. Links make memories. Memories give meaning.
We (have style. Style creates links. Links make memories. Memories) give meaning.
We give meaning.

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