Moonwalking with Einstein: BrainBomb #1 (Use your brain)


This post is inspired by Moonwalking with Einstein, and is part of our “BrainBomb” series. If you are inspired by the idea in this post, download the BrainBomb desktop wallpaper: (1440 x 900) or (1920 x 1200). Here are the firstsecond and third posts in this series. If you want a video summary and workbook for this book, sign up for a free trial of Read It For Me Pro.

We used to use our brains

Once upon a time, memory was the root of all culture. It was the way that customs, traditions, and knowledge got passed from generation to generation. If you wanted to “know” something, you had to commit it to memory.  For thousands of years, all of histories great stories and customs were passed on by word of mouth - which is to say that they were committed to memory.

But not any longer

When we (in the 21st century) think of committing something to memory, our first thought is to find a place that we can record it so we can access it at a later date. In the last few hundred years, we would put pen (or printing press) to paper, and pull it up when the time was appropriate. In the last 25 years or so, we transitioned from paper to bytes on a computer. In the last 5 years or so, we transitioned from bytes on a computer to bytes on a phone.  And if we didn’t record what we are looking for, surely we could just Google it, right?

I’ll just Google it instead

The one argument against training your memory is we will always have the world at our fingertips. The problem with this reasoning is that there are a number of important situations I can think of where “I’ll just Google that” is not a viable option. Like in the middle of an important meeting, for instance.  It’s also a lot like cramming for an exam at the end of the semester - the information just doesn’t stick. If it doesn’t stick, you’ve lost your ability to use it.

What’s your take - do we need to be training our memories, or can we truly rely on Google for everything we need to know?

  • HERDmeister
    Think you posit a false dichotomy: google is just the latest version of our species' amazing ability to outsource memory (and much of the general cognitive load besides) to those around us (and those around them and so on).

    It's a different technology base (bits plus - and not just - other minds) not something fundamentally new.

    What is different is the amount of information we each expect to have immediate access to...

    Where I think you go wrong is presuming that the information "stored" in individual minds in previous eras really was the thing that shaped individuals' behaviour then - that they (unlike us) acted independently of each other.

    There's lots of evidence that they - just like us - tended to choose to "have what she's having" (as the Rob Reiner movie famously suggested) rather than act independently, on the basis of the information and knowledge held in their individual minds.

  • Mark - I think we pretty much agree on this. I agree that we all exhibit Herd behaviour (I love your book, btw), but that's not what I'm arguing against here. What I argue for (probably not clearly enough) is that we when we outsource all of our knowledge, we miss out on the ability to think critically. We are training ourselves not to think.

    For instance, Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet's right hand man) famously uses 80 to 90 mental models to make all of his decisions, and has the best "30 second mind" in the world (according to Warren). By storing the "right" information in his brain, he has an advantage (in business) that nobody can compete with.

    I'm arguing for critical thinking, not independent behaviour.
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