i need to become stronger

refinding thoughts

wayfinding 2015-07-04

better wayfinding depends in-the-moment on improving focus and attention, but wayfinding is also about reading your map, i.e. remembering things. and remembering things is about rethinking old thoughts, i.e. recalling memories: thoughts you previously had that you can rethink quickly without having to regenerate them from scratch. to outperform natural wayfinding, we're going to need to investigate the limits of memory and find ways to work with those limits to achieve more.

memory is actually made up of at least three parts: sensory memory, working memory, and long-term memories. sensory memory is the very short lived (less than 1 second) memory that sense organs use in relaying information to the brain. working memory, also known as short-term memory, is the set of thoughts you can keep consciously aware of without repeated sensory information from outside your body. long-term memories are a collection of different mechanisms you use to store different types of information in different ways for long periods of time outside conscious thought to be recalled later. for example, it appears that long-term smell memory is separate from long-term fact memory, thus you have multiple long-term memories.

your working memory is very limited. most people can only keep about 5 things in their conscious thoughts at a time. it appears that working memory is made up primarily of an auditory loop. this loop repeats sound information inside your head over and over, but it is of a fixed length, so you can't remember anything more than what you can cram in there. although it appears that some people have had success training longer working-memory through exercises, even then the increases are relatively small (and probably not that useful). so even if you can get yourself more working memory, it still means you can keep little more than a handful of things in your conscious thoughts.

in comparison you store an almost limitless number of thoughts in long term memory, but these memory faculties have their own constraints. semantic memory is how you remember independent facts like 'tomatoes are red' and 'the mendoza line is .200'. this is apart from procedural memories that store sensory information and emotional content triggered by other memories. excepting cases of dementia or brain injury, it appears semantic memories can stay around indefinitely once consolidated, but may become almost impossible to retrieve without regular recall to maintain consolidation. in this way semantic memory is like working memory in that you have to keep repeating thoughts to hold on to them, but the process operates over months and years instead of seconds.

episodic memory lets you remember past experiences and other generic information that isn't otherwise stored in another long-term memory. unfortunately episodic memory is highly unreliable: very little detail is stored in episodic memory so most of the details have to be reconstructed on-the-fly when recalling a thought. this means environmental factors can heavily influence the details of episodic memories if not their gist. however episodic memories seem to be more robust than semantic memories, able to be recalled after many years of disuse, so they provide a potential key to very long-term storage of arbitrary information.

given this amazing yet limited memory, we now need to look for ways to improve upon it. techniques fall into roughly two categories: optimizations and augmentations. optimizations are those methods that make better use of your existing memory abilities to maximize their potential. augmentations are processes that put memory outside your head so you can reliably retrieve thoughts later. we'll consider both in turn.