On Memory and Staying Sharp through Brain Fitness exercise

Sandeep Gautam from the The Mouse Trap blog kindly referred me to a good article published a couple of days ago, The secret to staying sharp, which integrates some general advice on Brain and Mind Fitness with a summary of the book The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, by Professor Daniel Schacter. The book is a fun elaboration on his classic paper The seven sins of memory. Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience paper.

The books’ main message is: let’s not worry too much about our memory. Yes, we do not remember all the things we would like to, but there are reasons why this is good most of the times. And we can always make good use of To Do lists, Post Its and PDAs.

Prof. Schacter profiles the so-called “Seven Sins of Memory”, including their evolutionary psychology. You can read about the “Sins” in the article and the book review, but here I prefer to focus on why, in fact, not remembering everything may be good:

– The “Sin of Transience”: it helps us to adapt to new demands, to an evolving environment

– The “Sin of Absent-mindness”: in order to avoid information overload and fragmentation of knowledge

– The “Sin of blocking”: it helps us not recall the things we do not need to recall, allowing us to focus on the important things

– The “Sins of Suggestibility and Misattribution”: because we encode information selectively and efficiently, not needing to remember every single detail. We encode, and remember, the “gist”

– The “Sin of Bias”: facilitates emotional well-being, and helps us with induction thinking

– The “Sin of Persistence”: do we really want to constantly remember events that could threaten our survival, and lead us into deep depression?

The book is a very worthy read. If you want to dig deeper into the framework, you can also read a at couple of very good posts at the Developing Intelligence blog.

The article itself The secret to staying sharp contains other useful guidance, but fails to stress the need for novelty, variety and “stretching practice”. We will cover these elements of Brain Exercise in a series of posts next week.

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