Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Tragedy Of The Shallow Mind

I recently read a very interesting book called "The Shallows." The book's message is about the various unforeseen cognitive downsides to the (over) use and (over) reliance on the internet. Downsides mainly have to do with an inability to concentrate, reflect and synthesize thoughts and information and a constant push towards a constantly distracted state of mind. If you have the free time, I encourage you to read it.

(A number of the thoughts presented in the book will form the basis for a few posts)

There was a very informative section on memory (I did not expect memory to be discussed in so much detail). I learned that as a short-term memory becomes a long-term memory, the number of synaptic connections grows by more than 100%. Therefore, each time you review and recall something you have already learned, it is as if you "relearn" the information, and you form newer connections with other (Previously not yet "connected") pieces of knowledge (Such knowledge becomes more "sticky"). Each time we learn something new or recall learned information, we are (slightly) modifying our brains to make it easier to learn more ideas and skills in the future.

As our "memory storehouse" becomes larger and larger, we are able to form more and more connections. This allows us to do something that the human brain is VERY good at: finding patterns. These patterns only will emerge from the deep and thoughtful consideration of a subject, not the shallow analysis that comes from a few superficial "bites" of knowledge that are glanced at and quickly forgotten (The internet encourages such actions).

That is why the overuse of the internet (And the flawed view of intelligence and study advocated by society) poses such a big problem for the intelligence of the masses. In the minds of most, memorizing things is a waste of time, perhaps being useful in memory contests or when trying to impress people at a party. "Why bother remembering information if I can access it in just a few clicks?" "Why should I read this long narrative and follow the line of logic and reasoning if I can simply get the bullet pointed summary on website xyz?" "Why remember if the internet will remember for me?"

But when we remember, and our brain makes connections with other things, this not only serves as an index for memory access, but this shapes the mind, our very consciousness. Connecting IS thinking. Connecting IS the self. If we stop connecting, in a way, we stop thinking.

Outsourcing certain jobs to technology has been a great help to the human race. But once we begin to outsource our memories to the machine, we risk losing part of what makes us human. As people become less and less able to think deeply and concentrate on a subject, they become satisfied with more shallow and superficial knowledge, which causes their intelligence becomes more and more artificial, like the very machines they use.

This helped me to realize that even though it can be said that Supermemo is only a tool to memorize (what one could argue as being 'seemingly static') information, provided one puts meaningful information into Supermemo, the cognitive benefits are far more than simply committing said information to memory.