Over the past few years, I’ve had some discussions on the importance of learning things, and often by heart.
My brain is brimming over with information, both useful, interesting, uninteresting and totally obsolete – and everything in between. I value my brain library, and wouldn’t be without it for anything. Sometimes, I wish my brain could concentrate on where I put my glasses last, or my phone. Or maybe, just maybe, remember names in addition to cases and properties. People like to be remembered. Instead, my brain chooses to save information on how toxoplasmose makes male rats react to cat pee just the way they would react to a female rat in heat. I think it’s interesting, but it’s not very useful information in my everyday life.
In short, I like to learn new things, and I’m a collector of information on a rather wide spectrum. I’m not an expert in any field.
My cousin is ten years younger than me, and in 2017, he said that the need to know things by heart these days was not as great as ten years ago (2007), because nowadays you can just google it. I had to inform him that Google was just as good or practical ten years ago. Even back when I started frequenting the internet in 1998, searching the internet for relevant information was not only possible, but quite fruitful. Although, I mostly used AltaVista back then. My guess is, his searching skills have improved, rather than the internet and search engines themselves. If anything, at least Google is giving you what you want, rather than what you need, even if you don’t know it.
“I wasn’t born” is an answer I think I get more and more. It may be just because I’ve started to notice it. I know we tried a couple of times in school when we hadn’t read our homework in history, but that didn’t help us. I know quite a lot of things that happened way before I was born. Our brains are made to gather information others before us have experienced, not only what we have lived through ourselves. Luckily.
I feel that there is a common opinion that “kids these days” (not quite sure exactly who these kids are) are wiser, more knowledgable, more mature and all around an upgrade of the generation before. Because of technology and the world they live in. They are forced to live in an environment that makes them older earlier. At the same time, they are kids longer, they are less able to stand om their own two feet, and their parents take more responsibility even when the kids are grown up and have kids of their own.
My humble opinion (maybe not so humble, but it’s not anything I can base on my own research, rather than anecdotal evidences) is that “kids these days” are just as good or bad as their parents. They have not mutated, they are no super humans, and they are not smarter than their predecessors. What they have, is tons and tons on information at their fingertips. And the knowledge to access it.
“Kids these days” are not more technically advanced, they are born in their age and know how to handle their technical devices. Faced with a cassette player, they haven’t got the faintest. Or with a computer with floppy disks and DOS. Just as I’m sure the kids born 20 years from now will think the technology of today is so dated they don’t know how we survived.
Our brain hasn’t evolved in tens of thousands of years. That’s a fact. We are the same species as the one that lived in caves and chipped stones to make weapons. It’s our technology that has kept improving. The computer I’m typing this on, is a result of what generations and generations of inventors and curious people have discovert through the ages. Without our history, we are nothing.
Today, it’s all the more common to get rid of paper archives and save records online, in a cloud, or on discs. I’m afraid we are going to be a black hole in history. Seriously. A piece of pre-history 6000 years after pre-history. Even today it proves difficult to access data from older systems.
Recorded history is a gift for those who come after. We can learn from history, believe it or not. To my dismay, we seem to forget even our near history, and even things we learned about democracy and freedom of speech, is dwindling away. I’m slowly returning to my old thinking, that humans are stupid, and the world would be better without us. But on the other hand, I’ve grown more fond of the species as the years go by.
What I initially wanted to talk about, was that storing things in our long-term memory will help us to be more creative, give us the ability to be critical, and help us to get the right answer faster. Our working memory is very limited compared to our ever expanding long-term memory. If the two types of memory work together, our brain works faster and more stream-lined. And we are less prone to stupid mistakes.
For instance, if I use my online dictionary to translate a piece of written text in my mother tongue, and seriously, seriously have no prior knowledge to English or how to use a dictionary, it would look like this:
Crow hare dimmed plumage too type head hood, type wing too type calf-length tail. Both impertinent, you lower extremity too eyelet be approximate type.
This is an extreme example of poor translation, based on close to no knowledge about a subject (in this case English and use of dictionary).
My own translation, with a little help from a dictionary would look like this:
The body of the hooded crow is grey, and the wings, head and tail are black. The beak, legs and the eyes are almost black.
I’m no translator, but I think the second description makes more sense. I’ve left out the part about the length of the tail, because I haven’t got the faintest idea how to describe bird tails in English, and hardly in my own language.
A bit of prior knowledge on a subject is necessary to make up your mind about it. This is why I am of the opinion that knowledge is of the utmost importance. To own it, not just pick it from the internet when you need it. The internet is full of false information, both intentional and unintentional.
Knowledge is power, and I’m worried that we are entering a society where knowledge is frowned upon, and not for the right reasons.
Our responsibility is to keep giving knowledge to the next generation, and the next and the next. That’s all we have for now. We haven’t changed since humans left Africa, and I doubt we will change very much the next 50.000 years, unless something drastic happens.