Learning on YouTube

Memory: Slideshow from a YouTube Video from Stanford University.

Actually, I barely have any visual sketchpad at all. At my best times I can visualize small single-color filled rectangles and colored circles or triangles. That’s about it. I seem to be able to think consciously even so, thanks to the Inner Voice?

I have been looking around on YouTube for videos about studying, learning and memory.

(This is for selfish reasons mostly, as I am still trying to establish a Japanese vocabulary that will get me started on reading that language.)

One video was half an hour long, and it had a few minutes of interesting content. There was a woman in America who could remember every day after the age of twelve, a couple decades in all. But it was not just that she could remember: She could not forget. Her husband died four and a half year ago, and she still remembered it as if it were yesterday. At all times a stream of random memories was running through her head. She realized of course that this was not normal, and sought professional help. So far, it seems she has helped them more than they have helped her. She still remembered everything, while they learned new fascinating things about human memory.

At first they thought she was the only one, but they found a few more over time. Brain scans showed that certain parts of the brain was larger than normal in these individuals. They did not comment further on that, but I feel compelled to add that this does not say what is cause and what is effect. We know that there are visible changes in the brain of people who have meditated regularly for many years, and the changes are greater in those who have meditated longer, which implies that the practice leads to the biological changes, not the other way around. Who knows what would happen to your brain if you somehow created a psychological mechanism that runs memories through your head continuously. So it could be that it started out as just a habit and grew into a massive change in the brain. Stranger things have happened. Or perhaps not – it is pretty strange. Also, she was Jewish.

I remember (but only vaguely) a couple decades ago, reading a book at a friend’s place. It was about memory too, and was probably the first time I learned that people with amazing memory exist, and that they all remember visually. There was also a man with a natural unlimited memory. He automatically assigned visual qualities to words and numbers, which may have been the reason for his amazing skill. He could learn anything and recall it at any time, and his memories of his own life stretched back to the crib. Also, he was Jewish.

Aimed at more normal people is a series of short lectures on study technique and memory by Dr Chew at Samford (not Stanford) University. He discourages multitasking and swears to deep interaction with what one is trying to learn. Interestingly, the desire to learn (or not) has no effect on learning; the depth of the interaction decides. The time spent has no effect if processing is shallow; the depth of interaction is what matters. By deep processing we talk of the meaning of what you learn. So sorting words alphabetically or by the length of the word, for instance, has very little effect, even if you play around with the words in many ways for a long time. But thinking about the meaning of them, trying to find examples, comparing and contrasting, connecting them to something you already know, relating to them emotionally … these are deep forms of interaction and lead to forming memories more effectively.

On the other hand, there is the Spaced Repetition Software which I have praised from time to time. This is a tool for cramming random facts which are not easily related to a field of experience. I use it for learning Japanese vocabulary. It shows a fact frequently in the beginning, then more and more rarely. The ideal is to show it just before it is forgotten. By doing this, it trains the brain to wait longer before forgetting it, until eventually the time frame is likely to outlast your remaining lifetime. This approach requires a bit of energy at the start, but the total time spent is pretty short compared to the effect. It is tailored to isolated facts, though, and higher education in our age is not about cramming as much as understanding. Of course, you cannot cook without ingredients, and you cannot study something without facts.

I’ve been watching a few more and set aside others for watching later, but I have to update at some point if there is to be any point in writing. So this is it for now. Why not add your own favorites?

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