4.0286 Memory (5/139)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 16 Jul 90 18:37:42 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0286. Monday, 16 Jul 1990.

(1) Date: 13 Jul 90 17:32:36 EST (20 lines)
From: James O'Donnell <JODONNEL@PENNSAS>
Subject: 4.0278 ... Yates on Memory ...

(2) Date: Fri, 13 Jul 90 20:05 PDT (8 lines)
Subject: 4.0278 ... Yates on Memory ...

(3) Date: 14 Jul 90 13:24:00 EDT (33 lines)
From: "Mary Dee Harris" <mdharris@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: Memory Capacity

(4) Date: Sun, 15 Jul 90 11:06 CDT (45 lines)
From: Jamie Hubbard <JHUBBARD@WISCMACC>
Subject: [On Memory]

(5) Date: Sun, 15 Jul 90 18:24:27 EDT (33 lines)
From: Frank Dane <FDANE@UGA>
Subject: Memory

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 13 Jul 90 17:32:36 EST
From: James O'Donnell <JODONNEL@PENNSAS>
Subject: ... Yates on Memory ...

From: Jim O'Donnell (Penn, Classics)

Yates's book on Memory is famous (but to be used with this caution: the
Renaissance claimed to be reviving an ancient technique, but probably
wound up taking it more seriously and using it more effectively than
ever the ancients did), but even more accessible and exotic and
fascinating is Jonathan Spence, *The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci*,
about the transplantation of these notions from eastern into western
culture in the sixteenth century.

Holmes's remark (I'm doing this, ostentatiously, from memory) is about
the memory as a lumber room that has to have extraneous clutter kept out
of it and appears in the first story of all, *A Study in Scarlet*.
Dedicated Holmesians have pointed out that many of the subjects which
Holmes claims to have willfully ignored at that stage turn out to be
ones on which he is later revealed to have much accurate expertise.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------183---
Date: Fri, 13 Jul 90 20:05 PDT
Subject: Re: 4.0278 Responses: Indexing; Disk/Disc; Yates on Memory (3/39)

And then, alas, there is the awful fate of the human computer memory
bank, the idiot cripple in Borges' marvelous story, "Funes, the
Memorious." (Funesto is a sad name, a funereal onomastic.) Kessler

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------43----
Date: 14 Jul 90 13:24:00 EDT
From: "Mary Dee Harris" <mdharris@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: Memory Capacity

With regard to the continuing discussion on memory and the fading
thereof, I want add my observations based on my own experience. When I
was in college, I had an excellent memory for names. If I met a person
once, I knew the name and could recall it quickly. When I began
teaching, I also learned the names of all my students. Even with
100-200 students in a semester, by the third or fourth week I could call
each student by name, both in class and out- side of class. But when
the semester ended and I turned in the grades, I forgot the students'
names. If I saw them even a week later, I would have trouble
remembering their names. Only when a student had been through more than
one semester, would I learn their name well. (I was never conscious of
trying to forget the names; it was more like a "Clear memory" operation
that coincided with turning in the grades.)

I am now very bad at learning names of people I met. When I attend
conferences, I rely on name tags, but unless I make a determined effort,
I won't remember names.

It has occurred to me that I must have a certain number of slots for
names in my brain and I used them all up years ago. I don't seem to
have as much trouble remembering other kinds of things, but specific
names (including titles of books or articles) are a real bother.

Perhaps, someday brain researchers will understand some of these
phenomena, but for now we can only speculate.

Mary Dee Harris
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------51----
Date: Sun, 15 Jul 90 11:06 CDT
From: Jamie Hubbard <JHUBBARD@WISCMACC>
Subject: Re: 4.0277 On Memory and Memorials; Information (2) (3/74)

To add a few words to Willard's discussion of loss of facts and soaring
, I remember reading
an article some time back that talked about the inevitable and astonishing
loss of grey matter (some hopeless number of brain cells dying daily) but
it was coupled with the increased number of neural "links" (physical?
chemical? electrical-- synapses?) that were created as one gets older.
The point was something to the effect that though we may lose discrete
facts as we get older, because of the increased complexity of the neural
patterns we not only gain the depth of wisdom but are also (usually) able
to re-find those lost bits of information because they exist in many many
more virtual constellations of meaning (patterns), so that more routes
exist to take you to them. Like a single word being linked to many other
discussions in a hypertext situation.

Which also brings to mind the hallowed difference between knowledge and
wisdom. While knowledge may be the accumulation and quick manipulation of
discrete facts, possibly the territory of the young, wisdom is almost
always said to be the domain of the elderly (the wisdom of age, etc.).
Certainly the mere accumulation of information is not significant. In
this information age we are daily (and it seems to me rather brutally)
reminded of the impossibilty of "knowing it all." If I let my e-mail go
for a couple of days, the fear of "You have 83 new mail messages" greeting
me serves not to whet my appetite for facts, information, and the
delightful tidbits of other's wisdom that I know are in many of those
missives, but rather to keep me from logging on at all (which
only compounds the problem).

Lao-tzu (Lao, of course, means "old, venerable") said:
"Learning consists in adding to one's stock day by day;
The practice of Tao consists in subtracting day by day,
Subtracting and yet again subtracting till one has reached inactivity;
But by this very inactivity everything can be activated." Ch. 48

No knowledge, only patterns, which activates everything???

So take heart on your birthday Willard. On the other hand, at the
'tween age of 37, I think that there is only loss with no
new and exciting patterns emerging.
Jamie Hubbard (jhubbard@smith)

(5) --------------------------------------------------------------41----
Date: Sun, 15 Jul 90 18:24:27 EDT
From: Frank Dane <FDANE@UGA>
Subject: Memory

Jim Cerny wrote:

>>one is racing along in a conversation, bringing in
witty and incisive tidbits of information, and sudden-
ly, 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?<<

That one is incapable of calling up a key item now and then is
not surprising. Indeed, I suspect that many outside the 40-50
range would also respond "yes" to the idea. Perhaps members of
the 40-50 age range respond "yes, yes" because they are concerned
such slips are signs of aging.

What I find much more fascinating about memory (which is not my
area of expertise) are all of those other occasions on which one
is racing along and experiences no WHAM!, or the period of wit
and incite that precedes the WHAM! Considering the amount of
information, knowledge, wisdom, whatever we process every day,
what is surprising is that lapses occur with such infrequency
that we are able to notice them at all.