Think of all the things you used to remember but no longer need to: Telephone numbers, street and email addresses, driving directions, etc. In our society of ubiquitous computing devices, the formidable capabilities of the human memory are no longer obvious. Yet individuals have been known to memorize “the precise order of 1,528 random digits and the first 50,000 digits of pi.” Are valued concepts like knowledge and wisdom lost when we remember only how to access information instead of just remembering information?
What’s the Big Idea?
In Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus, Socrates recounts a king’s objection to the written word because it will “introduce forgetfulness” into the minds of men. And so it has, much more than the king would have dared imagine. The mind has a natural tendency to forget and unless memory is needed, recollection of events and information fall into darkness. But memory’s value is not absolute, says Princeton English lecturer Casey Walker: “We might remember less, but we still know more, which makes it hard to mourn the memory palace’s loss.”