Ars chats with math teacher Ben Orlin about his book Change Is the Only Constant.
Finally, I decided to build it around all my favorite stories that touched on calculus, stories that get passed around in the faculty lounge, or the things that the professor mentions off-hand during a lecture. I realized that all those little bits of folklore tapped into something that really excited me about calculus. They have a time-tested quality to them where they’ve been told and retold, like an old folk song that has been sharpened over time.
And this is roughly how memory and teaching has always worked. Stories and repetition.
–November 11, 2019 at 09:56AM
Hi, in a TV-show about all kinds of crazy world records I saw dominique o’brien memorising 50 objects that were placed on some kind of running track. When he was doing this, his eyes moved from side to side in a very fast pace. This reminded me of an incredibly smart IT-guy (I felt like Forrest Gump in comparison) that came to our warehouse to implement a new computer system. If he was asked a very difficult question he would look up in the air and his eyes would behave precisely like those o...
Possibly tangentially related:
If you sit on a swivel chair (safer than doing the same thing standing up) and gently place your fingertips on your closed eyes while you turn around and around, you’ll be able to discern that your eyes will still exhibit saccadic movement even though you can’t “see” anything. (Not sure if this is true for the blind, but it’s worth considering who this may not be true for and why.)
Rapid Serial Visual Presentation methods for speed reading (Spritz and related apps) work well primarily because they limit saccadic eye movements which take up a proportionally large portion of your reading time. (Ultimately I think there is an upper limit to how fast one can read and comprehend and retain information.)
The visual systems of chickens are responsible for their odd walking manner in which they throw their heads forward and then move their body underneath them while their head remains stationary. Essentially while their head is moving, they’re “blind”.
Is it possible that saccades of the eye are tied into our visual processing and memory systems in a manner deeper than we’re consciously aware? Does reading on a page help our comprehension or long term memories more because the words have a location on a page versus RSVP reading methods? Do our mental visualizations (imagination) change depending on these visual/reading methods? What effects to these have on our memories?
Some interesting questions worth pondering/researching.
In this issue, I want to open a conversation about a technology of our age that hasn’t quite worked out the way we all had hoped—and by we, I mean those of us who care about the composition and transmission of ideas, which I believe includes everyone on this list.
Twenty years ago, literary critic Sven Birkerts reviewed the new technology of ebooks and e-readers for the short-lived internet magazine Feed. They sent him a Rocket eBook and a SoftBook, and he duly turned them on and settled into his comfy chair. What followed, however, was anything but comfy:
René Descartes designed a deck of playing cards that also functioned as flash cards to learn geometry and mechanics. (King of Clubs from The use of the geometrical playing-cards, as also A discourse of the mechanick powers. By Monsi. Des-Cartes. Translated from his own manuscript copy. Printed and sold by J. Moxon at the Atlas in Warwick Lane, London. Via the Beinecke Library, from which you can download the entire deck.)
My immediate thought is that this deck of cards was meant as a memory palace. I’m curious what training in rhetoric/memory methods Descartes must have had?
November 06, 2019 at 08:49PM
We are beginning a renovation of our main library at Northeastern University, Snell Library, and have been talking with architects (some of them very well-known), and I’ve found the discussions utterly invigorating. I would like to find some way to blog or newsletter about the process we will go through over the next few years, and to think aloud about the (re)design and (future) function of the library. I’m not sure if that should occur in this space or elsewhere, although the thought of launching another outlet fills me with dread. Let me know if this topic would interest you, and if I should include it here.
Dan, this is definitely interesting. Please include it here or on your main site!!!
November 06, 2019 at 08:43PM
But wait, there’s more. Much more. We generally encounter four different acquisition models (my thanks to Janet Morrow of our library for this outline): 1) outright purchase, just like a print book, easy peasy, generally costs a lot even though it’s just bits (we pay an average of over $40 per book this way), which gives us perpetual access with the least digital rights management (DRM) on the ebooks, which has an impact on sustainable access over time; 2) subscription access: you need to keep paying each year to get access, and the provider can pull titles on you at any time, plus you also get lots of DRM, but there’s a low cost per title (~$1 a book per year); 3) demand-driven/patron-driven acquisition: you don’t get the actual ebook, just a bibliographic record for your library’s online system, until someone chooses to download a book, or reads some chunk of it online, which then costs you, say ~$5; 4) evidence-based acquisitions, in which we pay a set cost for unlimited access to a set of titles for a year and then at the end of the year we can use our deposit to buy some of the titles (< $1/book/year for the set, and then ~$60/book for those we purchase).
Nice to see this laid out. I’ve never seen a general overview of how this system works for libraries.
I’ve always wondered what it cost my local public library to loan me an e-book whether I read it or not.
November 06, 2019 at 08:40PM
It is worth asking why ebooks and e-readers like the Kindle treaded water after swimming a couple of laps. I’m not sure I can fully diagnose what happened (I would love to hear your thoughts), but I think there are many elements, all of which interact as part of the book production and consumption ecosystem.
For me, and potentially for a majority of others, our memories have evolved to be highly location specific. It’s far easier for me to remember what I’ve read when I read a physical book. I can often picture what I was reading at the top, middle, or bottom of the left or right page. This fact in addition to how far I am in the book gives me a better idea of where I am with respect to a text.
These ideas are very subtle and so heavily ingrained in us that they’re not very apparent to many, if at all.
See also Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture by Lynne Kelly (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
November 06, 2019 at 08:32PM
Saw a reference to this obscure memory text from the 50’s on the Art of Memory Forum. Looks interesting to check out for the state of the art then, particularly in comparison to Bruno Furst’s work, and who could resist the quirky book covers for this and its reprints?
I have a problem and I hope, you can help me.
Is there a way to just memorize information with mnemotechniques without doing much work beforhand?
My problem is, that I am tired of having to constantely building new memory palaces before I can memorize something. (Reusing memory palaces does not work for me, unfortunately.)
Is there a technique where I don`t have to constantely memorize new loci, a technique where I can just put the infos somewhere and review them later? And if so, how does this technique work and is it efficient (a good way to memorize things)?
In many modern descriptions of the method of loci, they’re often (unfortunately) described as places that are frequently reused as they would be for memory competitions. This makes them much tougher to use for remembering more useful things in longer term memory. As a result I use a small handful of very specifically selected places for these sorts of short term memory-based journeys. When I’m done with the specific task at hand, I mentally travel back through the journey and wash out all of those short term memories so that I can come back to them in rotation and they’re fresh and clean with many of the memories having faded out with the advance of time. Alternately peg-systems or linked story-systems can be used depending on the items being memorized.
For longer term memory, I prefer to use more everyday locations such as my home (or previous residences, schools, college, etc.) or walks around my neighborhood. This way, as I’m moving about my house, neighborhood, or other frequently visited quotidian places, I’m seeing the accumulated images and regularly re-firming them in my memory. This regular revisiting of them makes them stick in my long term memory much better. For things you want to keep for longer term, revisiting them at an hour, a day, a week, a month, and then three months with occasional annual revisits helps to keep them stored permanently in your long term memory. This method also allows you to add additional information via images over time so that when you’ve read that biography of Abraham Lincoln, for example, you can add any additional information to the loci where you stored him when you may have memorized all of the U.S. presidents in order. Lynne Kelly has a reasonably good description of this in her book The Memory Code where she discusses the timeline of history she’s created in a journey around her neighborhood.
In short, one should carefully consider the type of information one is trying to memorize, the length of time one wants to remember it, and then choose from one of the many methods for remembering it. Experience in doing this takes some time and advanced thought, but in the end will give better results.
Hello, I have a problem and I hope, you can help me. Is there a way to just memorize information with mnemotechniques without doing much work beforhand? My problem is, that I am tired of having to constantely building new memory palaces before I can memorize something. (Reusing memory palaces does not work for me, unfortunately.) Is there a technique where I don`t have to constantely memorize new loci, a technique where I can just put the infos somewhere and review them later? And if so, ho...
Syndicated copies to:
The key to dealing with information is having some sort of memory for it.
The word ekphrasis, or ecphrasis, comes from the Greek for the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise, often used in the adjectival form ekphrastic.—Wikipedia
While many may consider this example of Homer’s to be the first instance of ekphrasis within literature (primarily because it specifically depicts an artwork, which is part of the more formal definition of the word), I would posit that even earlier descriptions in the Iliad itself which go into great detail about individuals and their methods of death are also included in a broader conception of ekphrasis. This larger ekphrasis subsumes all of these descriptions in an tradition of orality as being portions of ancient memory palaces within a broader field of mnemotechny. I imagine that these graphic, bloody, and larger-than-life depictions of death not only encoded the names and ideas of the original people/ancestors, but they were also quite likely to have had additional layers of memory encoded (or attached) to them as well. Here I’m suggesting that while an actual shield may or may not have originally existed that even once the physical shield or other object is gone or lost that the remembered story of the shield still provides a memory palace to which other ideas can be attached.
(I’ll remind the forgetful reader than mnemotechny grows out of the ancient art of rhetoric as envisioned in Rhetorica ad Herennium, and thus the use of ekphrasis as a rhetorical device implicitly subsumes the idea of memory, though most modern readers may not have that association.)
Later versions of ekphrasis in post-literate history may have been more about the arts themselves and related references and commentary (example: Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn), but I have a strong feeling that this idea’s original incarnation was more closely related to early memory methods at the border of oral and literate societies.
In other words, ancient performers, poets, etc. may have created their own memory palaces by which they were able to remember long stories like the Iliad, but what is to say that these stories themselves weren’t in turn memory palaces to the listeners themselves? I myself have previously used the plot and portions of the movie Fletch as a meta memory palace in just this way. As the result of ritualistic semi-annual re-watchings of classic and engaging movies like this, I can dramatically expand my collection of memory palaces. The best part is that while my exterior physical location may change, classics movies will always stay the same. And in a different framing, my memories of portions of history may also help me recall a plethora of famous movie quotes as well.
Can I borrow your towel? My car just hit a water buffalo.—Irwin M. Fletcher
Asking questions in conversation has become problematic. For example, try saying this out loud: “I wonder when Martin Luther King was born?” If you ask that online, a likely response is: “Just Google it!” Maybe with a snarky link: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=when was martin luther king born?
I love the idea of this… It’s very similar to helping to teach young children how to attack and solve problems in mathematics rather than simply saying follow this algorithm.
I’m glad that there’s some more modern research around this general idea. Of course the reliance of humans on the power of visual memory goes back to ancient Greece with the method of loci and from the Renaissance (or earlier) with the mnemonic major system.
I know both systems intimately well since the age of about 11, though I haven’t written much about them on my site. (I should fix this, though there are some related tangents within my memory category.) I did notice a large overlap with the major system and Gregg shorthand a while back, which leads me to believe that they’ve got an even richer back history than most may presume.
I’ve always been confounded that these systems aren’t better known in modern culture, though some sources have indicated that religious influences tamped down their proliferation in the 1500’s.
The colloquialism “a picture is worth a thousand words” has reverberated through the decades, yet there is very little basic cognitive research assessing the merit of drawing as a mnemonic strategy. In our recent research, we explored whether drawing to-be-learned information enhanced memory and found it to be a reliable, replicable means of boosting performance. Specifically, we have shown this technique can be applied to enhance learning of individual words and pictures as well as textbook definitions. In delineating the mechanism of action, we have shown that gains are greater from drawing than other known mnemonic techniques, such as semantic elaboration, visualization, writing, and even tracing to-be-remembered information. We propose that drawing improves memory by promoting the integration of elaborative, pictorial, and motor codes, facilitating creation of a context-rich representation. Importantly, the simplicity of this strategy means it can be used by people with cognitive impairments to enhance memory, with preliminary findings suggesting measurable gains in performance in both normally aging individuals and patients with dementia. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721418755385
Is there some kind of historical memory and folk wisdom that ensures that a community remembers about very extreme phenomena, such as catastrophic floods, and learns to establish new settlements in safer locations? We tested a unique set of empirical data on 1293 settlements founded in the course of nine centuries, during which time seven extreme floods occurred. For a period of one generation after each flood, new settlements appeared in safer places. However, respect for floods waned in the second generation and new settlements were established closer to the river. We conclude that flood memory depends on living witnesses, and fades away already within two generations. Historical memory is not sufficient to protect human settlements from the consequences of rare catastrophic floods.
This is intriguing particularly when thinking back to our earliest world literatures which all involve flood stories.
I wonder what the equivalent sorts of things would be for C. elegans, drosophila, etc. for testing things on smaller timescales?
It didn’t matter how good the drawings were for the memory benefits to manifest.
A picture is worth a thousand words…. When it comes to conveying a concept, this sentiment can certainly be true. But it may also be the case for memory. At least that’s the message from Myra Fernandes and colleagues at the University of Waterloo, Canada – writing in Current Directions in Psychological Science, they argue that their research programme shows that drawing has a “surprisingly powerful influence” on memory, and as a mnemonic technique, it could be particularly useful for older adults – and even people with dementia.
Why, though, do we not romanticize our preservation? The same matter of chance, of the fleeting nature of fate exists on the other side of the coin. What would have happened if we were better rested, if our energy was better preserved, if we managed our time and said what we really mean? Rarely do we approach whether we get eight hours of sleep with the same guilt as we do whether or not we attended a party, even when, according to sleep expert Matthew Walker, sleep deprivation prevents the brain from remembering information, creating new memories, and sustaining emotional well-being. ❧