4.0260 Knowledge and Memory (3/100)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 10 Jul 90 16:43:58 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0260. Tuesday, 10 Jul 1990.

(1) Date: Mon, 9 Jul 90 16:22:39 -0500 (21 lines)
From: Alan D Corre <corre@csd4.csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Knowledge

(2) Date: Tue, 10 Jul 90 09:06 EST (31 lines)
From: Jim Cerny <J_CERNY@UNHH>
Subject: Knowledge/memory and anecdotal evidence.

(3) Date: Mon, 09 Jul 90 17:21 PDT (48 lines)
Subject: Re: 4.0257 Humanist Tasks; Transience of Knowledge

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 9 Jul 90 16:22:39 -0500
From: Alan D Corre <corre@csd4.csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Knowledge

In response to Frank Dane's comment, I should like to say that I do not
think that anyone ever suggested that the brain could become full in
reality. That notion was a straw man which one respondent knocked down
to comfort me for the regret that I expressed at my obsolescent
knowledge of the Univac 1100. Another respondent correctly noted that
my concern was economic rather than plenitudinous--with computers
bounding along the way they are, how can one intelligently use one's
time and energy in ways that do not become obsolete in short order.

At the same time, I think one can get a perception of fullness. Terms
like "mental indigestion" and "cramming for exams" suggest that people
sometimes feel that their poor brains are ready to bust. The medical
student learning the names of human muscles for a quiz, and even buying
books of mnemonics to help, must sometimes feel that the surplus
knowledge is about to run out of his or her ears. Maybe the art of good
teaching is the ability to serve an intellectual alka seltzer along with
the hard knowledge one imparts.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------37----
Date: Tue, 10 Jul 90 09:06 EST
From: Jim Cerny <J_CERNY@UNHH>
Subject: Knowledge/memory and anecdotal evidence.

When people say something like "their brain is too full," I suspect
they are reacting to problems of memory writing and retrieval and that
this is a colloquial way to express it. Anecdotal evidence seems to
abound and I wonder how formally it is recognized in any psychological
or medical studies.

I always thought I had a very good memory (easy to store facts, easy
to retrieve them), though not "photographic," until reaching 40 or so.
Wow! What a shock. The most noticible problem was retrieving
information, particularly names of things and people. But my ability
to cram facts is also much diminished. Linda Weltner, a writer for
The Boston Globe, wrote an _excellent_ commentary on this a year or so
(see, what I mean!) ago. She vividly describes how one is racing
along in a conversation, bringing in witty and incisive tidbits of
information, and suddenly, WHAM!, some key item you need is just not
there. Resort to cute mnemonic tricks won't retrieve it, it just
isn't there at that moment, though it will bob to the surface later.
Everyone in the 40-50 age range that I have showed this to, has said,
"Yes, yes! Exactly!"

So, I return to my original speculation. Has anyone bothered to study
this? Do the studies bear out the anecdotal evidence? Is this
something that has always existed, but is just much, much more noticible
in an information age? Is it due to something we are ingesting or
exposing ourselves to (I think some people regard aluminum as a suspect)?

Jim Cerny, University of New Hampshire. j_cerny@unhh
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------210---
Date: Mon, 09 Jul 90 17:21 PDT
Subject: Re: 4.0257 Humanist Tasks; Transience of Knowledge (2/74)

Frank Dane is making an interesting comment, when he alludes to the
"rstoration " as it were of a memory trace in its recall, into a
temporally-new context. But as each moment brings with it temporal
novelty as well as newness, and also recedes into the past directly, en
passant, as it were, we have the problem of a n enlarging cistern or
tank, or cesspool, or oubliette, but not a midden, in which discarded,
say abalone shells, layer by layer, attest to a 5-10,000 year village
dependent on mollusc harvest. The interesting thing to me at least,
subjectively, is that reading itself is something one continually
learns, as is seeing and hearing music, say. The great texts, those
that seem to contain the possible freshness of the future and which
lead to understanding or wisdom, must be read early and again and again,
studied, as we say, in order to be comprehended. But...do they
comprehend us, or we comprehend them? The computer physiological model
is one that starts from reductionism, and cannot, or does not grow, it
seems to me. If I ask myself why, I think it is because our age tends
to be terribly egoistic: my brain, my motherboard, my circuits, and
overlooks the committment of the self to the greater whole, which
itself must be made up and remade constantly in our attention, the quest
for angelhood, even deityhood. Example: how could one have grasped, I
mean understood, such a simple admonition as that in ECCLESIASTES
(which I read as a lad of 8 or so, and surmised to be full of terror,
how did I surmise it? because it was mysterious? what is that?), and it
said, One day the sound of the water plashing in the fountain in the
courtyard will be intolerable to you. When one thinks, and thought in
imagination as a child, Gee, the fountain sounds so soothing and calming
and nourishing out there in the glare of the day (a di chirico
fountain?), so what must it mean to be told that one day its very gentle
delight will exacerbate your sensibility. Inf ormation it was then, to
me the child; knowledge it became to me the adult, as a sort of guide;
and now, after 60, I begin to comprehend that it meant what it said, and
what it meant was a kind of horror at existence itself, which is eve
rything to one! It is a phrase that reverberates with wisdom and
understanding; yet that understanding is not ever new and refreshed when
one calls it up, not simply that: it grows louder and more full of
meaning, if one gives oneself to it, and not simply takes it in as
another bit of many sentences in that work. In fact, it begins to be
unendurable because unspeakable, because too full to be uttered, except
as itself; and yet as itself it is but a sentence. One of course know
that the world's wisdom literature is chocabloc with such sentences,
and they are different in kind from other sentences, as is poetry
different from prose, etc. Tell that to the business community? How?
Who whom? as Lenin. asked Kessler at ucla. Maundering, but here. I hope.