Monday, September 20, 2010

Selective Memory Update: An Improvement

It's been a long time since I've talked about my selective memory, hasn't it? Comically enough -- I had forgotten about it. Well, to get back on track if you have forgotten as well, this issue pertains to an involuntary subconscious habit I've developed in childhood and maintained ever since. In the shortest terms, I have had difficulty remembering very concrete abstractions, particularly isolated concepts. For instance, if I were to read a medical article regarding a particular health practice, follow the argument perfectly fine, and end up agreeing with the conclusion drawn at the end, usually what I would retain in my mind is a summarized version of the conclusion with the specifics omitted. In other words, after having cultivated the forest, I would no longer be able to go back and examine the individual trees. Such a mentality has been particularly difficult in trying to learn new concepts, as I have trouble learning the ones with complex referents, or even ones that simply have a lot of syllables or an etymological origin in a foreign language. With concepts and words it would be like my mind never processed them. Sometimes I would be reading an article and confront a concept or foreign name like I was seeing it for the first time, even though I knew I've seen it several times pages before.

Summarizing this phenomenon as having a "selective memory" may be inaccurate since it leaves the impression of my consciously cherry picking, but I cannot think of any better term to describe it for now. It's been particularly harmful in my educational endeavors, as it leads to trouble in me remembering complex concepts, or even being able to connect and interrelate facts of a person's life simply because they have a "funny" name.

Happily, I've noticed a significant improvement in my endeavor to combat this problem. My mind no longer skips over or ignores words and concepts that are difficult to deal with. I've been stopping to fully pronounce them in my head, learn how to spell them from memory, and can even better retain their meaning. There are still some difficulties, but this little bit of progress is still heartening.

My methodology lies within the form of note-taking and conceptual exercises I've specified in several articles about my study endeavors. By putting difficult concepts and words into isolation I have done well to train myself not to ignore them, and to be patient in wrestling with them. Specifically, in my notes I've taken to a strategy of writing unfamiliar words in repetition after I identified that they were difficult or unfamiliar. For instance, "atherosclerosis." I know in layman terms that means heart disease, but its intimidating spelling and pronunciation would have previously caused my mind to habitually skip over it and never learn how to pronounce or spell it. When coming across a word such as this that struck me as odd, I put an "X" in my notes and kept writing the word repeatedly until I noticed I could spell it without looking to my reading or to my previous writing. Such a short exercise may not lead to perfect mastery, but it does well for training considering the number of potential "odd" words to come across in my readings. Given longer practice, my spelling and pronunciation is sure to improve, along with its corollary effects on my speaking habits.

In regards to concepts, you know how it goes: I circle the concept in the reading to point it out and then, if I choose to do an exercise with that particular concept, I look up its definition in the dictionary, note its relationship to perceptual reality, and then examine the referents that give rise to it, including the unfamiliar concepts it depends on if it exists in a chain. These days I mostly do the exercises mentally or by rubberducking, but I haven't eliminated written exercises from my practices; I just try to refrain from them for the sake of efficiency. I'm a little uneasy when I'm doing conceptual exercises and find that I'm doing some concepts more than once, having forgotten I've done them before, but that only means I need to work harder and be more rigorous. Despite how irritating it might be to do repeat exercises, it's all good for memorization in the end.

There is still, however, the issue of trying to reach integrated conclusions while at the same time still being able the retain the essential concretes that give rise to that conclusion; that is, being able to see the forest and its essential trees at my choosing. I've tried incorporating specific symbols for integrations in my note-taking, in which, during a section of reading, I pause to draw the material into a mid-section integration and then work to make ever broader integrations as I continue reading. It's helping somewhat, but my habits are still yet sloppy: I'm having trouble writing working notes on limited content and then switching to writing conclusions on the content as a whole, and then making those integrations broader and broader as I continue. As of right now I'd say this is a problem of practice, not methodology, so I'll continue to try this strategy and to improve myself in implementing it.

The reason why I think its important to retain essential concretes in my mind is so that I can keep my mind reality-oriented and to become a better activist. For the former, concretes are required to ensure that highly abstract conclusions are rooted in reality, thereby making me objectively certain. For the latter, regardless of whether or not what I advocate is valid, concretes are needed in order to be able to persuade other people to my position. To elaborate on that last, take my advocation of a paleo dietary lifestyle: Sure, I might be able to say that Good Calories, Bad Calories offers a valid argument as to why today's nutritional science is unscientific, false, and improper, but such a conclusion isn't going to convince anyone unless I can cite important aspects of the arguments of the book, such as how Ancel Keys deliberately cut out a huge portion of data from his infamous Seven Countries study.

I'm glad that I'm showing improvement in developing a stronger memory and better psycho-epistemology, but yet more practice and rigor is needed.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I have the same problem sometimes, especially with complex medical data. I read through GCBC and didn't memorize many of the details, but explained it to people in the abstract, including why the scientists let us down. But they demand those concretes... Can't you see they're liars, I say. Look at the pattern. "Yeah, but what about study X or study Y?"


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