Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World Applications?

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Red314's picture
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

I think that comprehension and understanding are related to memorization, but do not depend on it.
Being able to use mnemonics, and so memorizing quickly, is a great advantage if your goal is to learn/understand something; but i think that deep understanding of a topic requires the ability to generalize what has been learned, and to apply it to previously unseen cases.
So, having a great memory allows you to acquire facts, definitions, examples faster, and even if it helps comprehension (because, the more examples you know, the easier it is to apply it to something new), it doesn't substitute it.

I'll try to make an example of what i mean writing about an article I read some time ago. (I can't remember where i read it( but you can try to google it), and i'm not even sure if what it said is still valid; just take it as an example). The article was about scientists who tried to teach animals (probably monkeys) how to count: the result was that the animals could remember and recognize the numbers they were taught, but they couldn't generalize what they had learned and use higher numbers. So, what i want you to take from this example is that memorizing is different from understanding.

Ginel's picture
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

For me .. the more I connect ideas in a logical fashion .. the more I understand . If I just commit to memory with the use of mnemonics or even with repetition ... I won't really know that subject .

I believe that there are many layers of understanding .. and those layers are achieved only with the use of good logical thinking .

Even ex memory champions don't really say something clear when they are asked about the application of these methods to subjects like science where one should employ logic .

Watch the author of Moonwalking with Einstein .. in his interview .. he says he recommends being mindful instead of using memory techniques in day to day life .

I am sorry if my messages are upsetting anyone . I will try to end the discussion here .. because I find it pointless to go on . I know that I did not convince anyone ... and you did not convince me .

There are a couple of guys here that might agree with me , like Red314 for example .. who know that there is a difference between using your memory and understanding .

Have a nice day Smile

gsdejager's picture
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

Red, I think you raised some good points. I agree with you for the most part, but there are a few qualifications I'd like to add.

Yes, understanding involves being able to draw meaningful connections between various stimuli. The ability to generalize (induction) is one of the key factors in reasoning ability. That being said, look at the basic process of induction. Induction involves observing a finite number of events and generalizing to a universal law that can be applied to cases that share a similar structure, but have not been encountered. This ability to isolate and organize information is what we normally think of when talk about understanding. As important as this ability is, without content (memory) there will be nothing to organize, no relations, nothing. Once again, don't confuse this type of memory with mere memorization. In a lot of cases we extract the underlying structure and forget the specific experiences from which we derived them. And since we can't remember, we assume it kinda just happened. For example, name the first couple of instances where you learned that stuff drops to the ground? I sure can't recall, but in order for me to have derived the law of gravity (or an intuitive understanding of it at least), these experiences/memories had to have happened; whether I can recall them or not.

Inductive reason happens by (as you previously mentioned) understanding the underlying organization and structure of the content represented in the mind, but it is still firmly rooted in memory. If there's no trace of the rule in memory, it would be unknowable and unusable. The whole point is that the relational nature of understanding (inductive of deductive reasoning) cannot possibly occur without memory. And the more salient these memories are, the easier they will be utilized when we systematically go about trying to understand something new.

So yes, understanding relies on memory but they are not necessarily reducible to one another. I think this is where the confusion comes in. Ginel seems to think I'm implying that they are the exact same thing. Memory is a necessary condition for understanding to occur, but it is not a sufficient condition (i.e all that's needed). In much the same way that a car's engine is a necessary condition (without it the car isn't a car), it also requires a bunch of other stuff to become a car. So an engine isn't a car, but without an engine there is no car. Memory isn't understanding, but without it there can be no understanding.

In order to draw those inferences, you'd l need a frame of reference for what counts as meaningful and what not. These frames of reference (inductive inferences) will a) be situated in memory (otherwise you wouldn't be aware of them), and b) derived from memory. Studies have shown that some primates have the ability to do this at a very rudimentary level, but how far this ability extends is not entirely clear. What is clear however, is that human beings are seriously good at it, sometimes too good.

Yes, rote memorization is different from understanding. But all things being equal, someone with the ability to memorize and recall facts and ideas easier will have a much richer pool to draw inferences from. He'll still need to arrive at or study the general laws that form part of the field to be able to do so, but if he can, he'll have more inferential possibilities/ possible relationships available to him.

Experience (i.e memory) give us the content needed so reasoning can happen at all. Understanding is a relational enterprise. You can only understand something new by relating it to that which is already represented in memory in one shape or another.

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rtr
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

Mnemonic techniques are not useless in the real world, but they also are not magic pixie dust that allows anyone to learn anything effortlessly. They are just another tool.

Personally, I think the most practical applications involve very rapid encoding, like remembering someone's name or phone number on the fly, or remembering a license plate of a car that left an accident. I think it's less practical for remembering large amounts of information. It can help some with vocabulary words, but when trying to learn a broader topic, time is better spent creating a mental framework and understanding how different aspects of a topic interact and affect each other.

garoth's picture
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

Just to pitch in -- I thought gsdejager's comments were nicely formulated and well philosophized. But at the end of the day, the question of the topic is "are mnemonic techniques useful in the real world?" How can you say no to that? Giving a speech from memory is clearly better than reading from cue cards. Remembering numbers or constants you need regularly is more efficient than looking them up every time. Remembering people's names and their spouses' names is a great advantage.

Of course learning via rote memorization is worse than learning via building connections. Of course it's a reasonably worthless trick to be able to memorize a deck of cards (though I'm sure you could frequently impress people, so maybe it's not that worthless). But some things are just very handy to have known.

For example, I'm a mathematician and programmer by training. My entire business is constructing logic and applying it. However, if I was taking an exam, sure, I could understand how formulae work and what the construction of a proof is. But what if I needed to

  • Remember the gravitational constant to double check my math?
  • Memorize some formulae that I didn't fully understand or didn't have time to fully understand?
  • Remember a few phone numbers in case my phone dies and I desperately need to contact someone?
  • Remember the value of a Mole ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(unit) )?
  • Memorize rock classification charts (I did this for a class once, it was on the exam, and a massive pain -- http://csmres.jmu.edu/geollab/fichter/IgnRx/simpclass2.gif -- about 8x as much as this one chart)

So there are things in real life which you are a) hard to memorize, b) you don't need to make connections to or really think about unless you need them, and c) need to be memorized. And for those things you should apply mnemonic techniques.

parkham's picture
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

I think Harry Lorayne can answer the OP question in one or two sentences - I paraphrase:

"There are three keys to learning: Knowing how to find the information - Knowing how to remember the information - Knowing how to apply the information"

It could be said then, (according to Harry Smile ) that memory is one of the 3 pillars of learning.

parkham's picture
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

rtr wrote:
... but when trying to learn a broader topic, time is better spent creating a mental framework and understanding how different aspects of a topic interact and affect each other...

Do you have a basic strategy to share with us? I'd love to read about it!

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rtr
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

parkham wrote:
rtr wrote:
... but when trying to learn a broader topic, time is better spent creating a mental framework and understanding how different aspects of a topic interact and affect each other...

Do you have a basic strategy to share with us? I'd love to read about it!


I assume each person will have techniques that work best for them. But here's what works for me.

Personally, I like mind maps. I don't do anything formal with them. Mainly I will read about a topic I don't understand, and I will just start writing down keywords or key concepts, just to get them on paper. I write them randomly on the paper, spaced out, with a circle around them, so I can connect the circles and see how the key words and concepts relate to each other. After I gain some understanding, I will usually recreate the mind map in a better organized way (the first time never works out very organized, because I don't know the relationships between concepts yet). It's also helpful to recreate the mind map from memory. That's how you reinforce what you've learned, by recalling it.

I also like to self-quiz myself, usually using some kind of flash card app. I will try to create flash cards as I am learning something, and then I will run through the flash cards to verify I remember all of the key concepts. I like this because I don't trust myself. It's easy to tell myself, "Of course I remember the last chapter", and move on to the next one. But I know that I'm lazy, so in my laziness, it's easy to convince myself not to revisit the previous chapter. Usually when this happens, I get several chapters ahead of what I actually understand, then the idea of going back and redoing a bunch of work seems disheartening and I'll move on to something else. So I started quizzing myself to make sure I know the old stuff before moving on to new stuff. I really like it.

I especially like the self-quiz as a way to review the material because I'm busy and might be tied up with work for days. So I might read a chapter and learn something, but I might not pick up where I left off again for several days or a week or two. So I either have to have some kind of notes or summary to quickly get me caught up, or the self-quiz helps with that as well.

If I'm reading a book digitally, like on the Kindle or Nook app, or even just a PDF, I will use the highlighting feature extensively. I highlight anything that seems interesting or noteworthy, and then the app will show you a list of everything you have highlighted. It makes for a good, quick review of the material.

I remember a story about Isaac Newton. He started reading a book on geometry. He only understood the first few pages. Once he got to a point where he could not understand, he started at the beginning of the book and re-read it, and each time he made it farther, and ultimately he would master the material. Most of us are not that humble to say, "I'm only on page 3 and I don't understand, back to the beginning!"

And finally if you can use the material in some way, it helps a great deal with understanding. If I learn something new in chess, and I get to use it in a real game, that concept becomes very hard to forget. If I'm learning a programming language, it sticks with me if I use the language and struggle with it a bit. If you only read about it and don't use it, it fades away. You have to use it. That's why it's hard to become an expert on something that isn't also your day job. My day job is an IT consultant, so I fix computers and design new systems for businesses. But I secretly want to become a day-trader, but it's very hard because I spend 8-10 hours a day doing something that's not day trading. I used to play online poker and made money at it, but it took study and a lot of time. I would spend 2-3 hours most evenings, and more on the weekends. Even then I was not exceptional, just good enough to make a profit. So if you can get a job doing what you want to learn about, you will become an expert on it much quicker. Unfortunately that often means starting at the bottom, so once you start making more money it's hard to justify taking a big pay cut to learn something new.

rtr's picture
rtr
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Re: Are Mnemonics And Memory Training Useless For Real World ...

I'll also add, taking your time is important. You can read something without comprehending it. My wife is a teacher and she says "reading is thinking" (if you do it right), so you should always be questioning, "what's the author saying? what's happening? what's the most important thing in this chapter? what's something interesting in this chapter? why did he say this and not that?", and so on.

I heard a chess grandmaster say that he has learned the most from reading chess books that are written in another language, because it forces him to take his time. Reading quickly is like watching TV. You can watch what's on the screen, but it doesn't mean you are taking it in, and it keeps moving forward whether you are paying attention or not.

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