Remembering Stuff

If only its that simple...
If only it's that simple...

It’s been a long time since the previous entry; ERPZ have been very active with posts in the month of November generally but kind of stalled this moment. I’ve not written about studying techniques for a while now and I’m hoping to revisit it. Today’s topic is somewhat related to memorizing stuff, something I almost never dwell on because I believe that when you understand something, you won’t have to memorize it to remember it; the associations made in your brains when things you already know would help you anchor new concepts firmly in your mind. These associations can only be made because you understand the concepts.

The reality is that there might be many things that are not about understanding but pure memory. Alternatively, understanding may only come with exposure to an unrealistic amount of facts that would have to be remembered anyways. When that happens, we have to resort to ‘memorizing’; a process we normally understand as ‘getting stuff into the brain’. The question is how things normally enter our minds. The mind is a closed system which receives information only through the neurons and these cells in turn, receive the information they’re transmitting through the sensory organs. In other words, our senses are the ultimate gateway to the mind and thus our memory.

Yet when we study, we often overtax our visual sense as we task it to commit things we read into memory. For some audio learners, reading out chunks of text may help but people rarely attempt to go beyond the visual-audio means of learning. There’s more to our senses than our eyes and ears; our skin, our muscles can all work in sync with our eyes and ears help us to remember things. There is a reason why big events tend to stick to our minds more than small events – those events are big because they arouse more of our senses, we see, smell, hear, anticipate, feel through our skin and react to them through our muscles and thoughts. That’s why it’s so hard to remember a chunk of exchanges perhaps in Macbeth if one don’t feel for the characters or comprehend the context of the story in the first place (insufficient arousal to our senses). The principle of having more information to anchor new ideas works the same – understanding the circumstances where a poem was written and the background of a poet naturally helps you remember the poem better (not to mention the rhymes and choice of words which are designed to introduce patterns that our minds can recognise more easily and thus recall).

Thus, to help yourself memorize stuff, pick up things that help arouse more of your senses: read aloud as you look through your notes, process them in your mind and write them in more concise or condensed forms on a piece of paper all at the same time. This way, you remember the words you read, the things your hear, the different reactions your mind produce to the things you read and the muscle actions involved in penning down the concise form of the things you’re trying to remember. You may not progress as fast in terms of covering content when you do this compared to just plain reading, but the effect of memory is so significant you will soon realize that multiple reading of the same material is no longer justified with such intense ‘memorizing’. In tech speak, the amount of bandwidth each senses can offer as a gateway to the mind is limited and to expand this bandwidth and thus increase retention in our mind, there’s a need to use other channels, other senses.

To reinforce the stuff ‘memorized’, one could use mindmaps to surface connections between the things read and absorb after the studying process I prescribed above. The mindmap is to help you see more clearly the big picture of the disparate information you’ve been trying to take in. It reviews things you’ve learnt and bring to your attention some stuff you might have missed out and have to relook. The mindmap can be tossed aside after use (I recommend just trashing it) since its use is limited once it’s satisfactorily formed.

This article might be a little too late considering people are almost done with O Levels and A Levels now but hopefully, students who are still studying and moving on to higher level educations would find this useful.

Inner Economist

Carrot or Sticks?
Carrot or Sticks?

I have seen this book around for a while but didn’t bother to pick it up to read since it didn’t quite seem to be as interesting as the other popular economics books that was published during those times. I decided to borrow it from the library having discovered that I’ve more or less finished the other the popular economics books (though the most recent SuperFreakonomics is out of my reach at the moment). Interestingly, I didn’t realise “Discover Your Inner Economist” is written by Tyler Cowen until I got home and took a good look at the cover page. It was definitely a familiar name since I visited Marginal Revolution before and seen the name lingering around the title of almost all the entries there.

I didn’t jump right into reading the book this time; instead, I went on to read a book review of “Discover Your Inner Economist” before heading to reading. I’ve become more conscious about devoting my time to reading books that wouldn’t contribute much to my intellectual development. In addition, I was exploring exactly how professionals write book reviews (something I’ve been doing and very keen on improving). And to my surprise, Tyler Cowen was trying to make recommendations for people to do efficient reading (or rather maximize gains from reading):

The best sections of the book concern tactics for maximizing one’s cultural consumption, or what amounts to imitating Cowen. He lists eight strategies for taking control of one’s reading, which include ruthless skipping around, following one character while ignoring others, and even going directly to the last chapter. Your eighth-grade English teacher would faint.

Not that I’ve tried that on Tyler Cowen’s book. His book focuses on stuff that makes your life better that have little to do with money or material gains for that matter. Tyler writes as if he is speaking and Inner Economist have been an easy read for me although I have to admit Tyler strays into topics so far from traditional economics that I get lost in his narration about appreciation of culture and the human psyche. It makes me wonder if I might have enjoyed the book better with the rampant skipping about chapters and reading just here and there as he advised since I’d be equally lost anyways.

Did I mention that his last strategy for maximizing cultural consumption is to “Give Up”? I did consider that at some point of time but since I had more time and attention to spare than Professor Tyler I decided not to. Discover Your Inner Economist is very much more about looking at reality from the lens of an inner self who have better grasp of reality and more objectivity than the ‘you’ who participates in this reality. So if you’ve time to spare, do give Tyler a chance.

New Mail

More Boxes!
More Boxes!

This week’s package of video, audio and reads is a little more on the lighter side, starting with a short 3-minute talk by Dr Laura Trice about asking for praise. After that you might like to listen to Dan Ariely‘s talk on our buggy moral code, a topic I’ve always been interested in.

In news, you might be encouraged to understand that Genius and talent is overrated and social forces can manipulate the motivations to create genius sheerly through encouragement as argued by Steven Levitt in SuperFreakonomics.

I’ll like to take the chance to introduce Knowledge@Wharton, which offers high quality content as well as podcast on economics and business issues of the day. You might like to listen about questions posed on Net Neutrality.

Once again, enjoy your weekends!