Thursday, March 21, 2013

What is the internet doing to our brains?

Could the greater portion of the internet be operating like a fast food restaurant? Offering quick, tasty bites of data and entertainment that really ends up providing nothing beneficial to the brain? insight, no thought provocation, no improvement in mental acuity?

Could the presence of the internet be rewiring the circuitry of human brains to want to jump around from one piece of information to the next? The internet may be making it more difficult for the average brain to focus on any particular topic for a protracted interval of time. No one can say whether the human brain has evolved to deal with this constant, instantaneous access to information and entertainment. Are more and more individuals disengaging from reading lengthy books to instead jump from site to site on the internet?

I think that some brains may be more equipped to handle the presence of the internet than others. People who naturally have the ability to be disciplined and delay gratification, individuals who tend to not procrastinate in their projects and pursuits and don’t jump down rabbit trails of inanity (web surfing) will be more able to use the internet in a beneficial manner (that is, use it in ways that help them achieve their goals).

The internet may be acting as a giant selecting mechanism that hinders many individuals (that already have an innate tendency to be more impulsive or have a decreased attention span) from completing their life’s goals. How could it do this? Perhaps it is sucking copious quantities of time from such a person—time that could have been spent exploring more innovative and creative pursuits, inventing something or exercising.

On the contrary, the internet offers many individuals an enhanced means to be creative and explore opportunities that would have been inaccessible to them otherwise.  The internet allows many to make a passive income which aids their survival. Perhaps, without the internet to diminish the sense of boredom, some individuals would be off pillaging, raping, watching reality television shows, or going to church.

The internet is still a very new phenomenon in human history. It will help many and hurt many. Like the technology of genetically modified organisms, the internet is a technology—a tool—that can be used for good and bad purposes. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What are the components of a good memory?

Many of us would love to have a better memory. I surmise that a strong, focused attention span allows for the development of better memory.  Yet, what causes a person to have a strong attention span in the first place? What makes a person pay stronger, longer attention to some phenomena and not to others?

I want to suggest that phenomena that relates to your person and identity, things that you find peculiar or interesting, things that aggravate you and things that you despise, will entertain your attention span longer than other kinds of phenomena. Perhaps it isn’t just the length of the attention span but how deeply (thoroughly?) we embed the information in our brains and how much wiring our brain devotes to a specific piece or collection of data.

The length of one’s attention span seems also to be important because if you can have a longer attention span for a particular area of knowledge, you will be able to encode and store more of the information about the topic; this results in enhanced memory retrieval.

Furthermore, it seems that anything that evokes a fiery emotional response will also form a more trenchant, recallable memory. One of the problems for developing a better memory in other domains of knowledge (that are entirely new) may be that instead of generating an emotional response, they elicit an indifferent response.  If you find an area of knowledge, say, politics, to “boil your blood” you probably have a better grasp on this subject than someone who has more of a flat, indifferent response to the subject.

 Perhaps the material you are learning bores you or doesn’t pique your interest or excite your thought processes enough to establish focus.  This past quarter I’ve experienced just that. As I reflect on the current subject matter, I see that it doesn’t interest me and it doesn’t relate to any experiences I’ve ever had so my focus and memory (and thus learning) capacity is negatively impacted.  Passing the class matters—and so far, I’m doing that, but for me, longer-term retention is always the ultimate goal

If only there could be a method (or pill) to make us more interested (or more emotionally affected or rewarded?) by a subject so that focus and memory were better played out.