Well, good news! I have discovered the ultimate content freak product: SuperMemo.
Actually, I rediscovered it. A couple of years ago I came across SuperMemo in my wanderings and didn't know what to make of it. It sounded good -- it sounded great -- but who were these people? Offhand, I couldn't tell whether SuperMemo was the brainchild of some crackpot internet nut or some crackpot genius internet nut. So I filed the URL and planned to get back to it when I had more time.
Then I forgot about it until it popped back up a few weeks ago in a Wired article, which I printed out and also forgot. (Once I have my very own copy of SuperMemo and have figured out how to operate the incremental reading feature, this kind of thing won't happen to me any more.)
A couple of days ago the print-out surfaced, and there you have the Living History of my journey to SuperMemo and extreme memory:
Piotr Wozniak's quest for anonymity has been successful. Nobody along this string of little beach resorts recognizes him as the inventor of a technique to turn people into geniuses. A portion of this technique, embodied in a software program called SuperMemo, has enthusiastic users around the world. They apply it mainly to learning languages, and it's popular among people for whom fluency is a necessity — students from Poland or other poor countries aiming to score well enough on English-language exams to study abroad. A substantial number of them do not pay for it, and pirated copies are ubiquitous on software bulletin boards in China, where it competes with knockoffs like SugarMemo.
SuperMemo is based on the insight that there is an ideal moment to practice what you've learned. Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you've forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you're about to forget. Unfortunately, this moment is different for every person and each bit of information. Imagine a pile of thousands of flash cards. Somewhere in this pile are the ones you should be practicing right now. Which are they?
Fortunately, human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially. A graph of our likelihood of getting the correct answer on a quiz sweeps quickly downward over time and then levels off. This pattern has long been known to cognitive psychology, but it has been difficult to put to practical use. It's too complex for us to employ with our naked brains.Twenty years ago, Wozniak realized that computers could easily calculate the moment of forgetting if he could discover the right algorithm. SuperMemo is the result of his research. It predicts the future state of a person's memory and schedules information reviews at the optimal time. The effect is striking. Users can seal huge quantities of vocabulary into their brains.
Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm
By Gary Wolf
memory is good
The problem of forgetting might not torment us so much if we could only convince ourselves that remembering isn't important. Perhaps the things we learn — words, dates, formulas, historical and biographical details — don't really matter. Facts can be looked up. That's what the Internet is for. When it comes to learning, what really matters is how things fit together. We master the stories, the schemas, the frameworks, the paradigms; we rehearse the lingo; we swim in the episteme.
The disadvantage of this comforting notion is that it's false. "The people who criticize memorization — how happy would they be to spell out every letter of every word they read?" asks Robert Bjork, chair of UCLA's psychology department and one of the most eminent memory researchers. After all, Bjork notes, children learn to read whole words through intense practice, and every time we enter a new field we become children again. "You can't escape memorization," he says. "There is an initial process of learning the names of things. That's a stage we all go through. It's all the more important to go through it rapidly." The human brain is a marvel of associative processing, but in order to make associations, data must be loaded into memory.
I speak as a person who writes nonfiction for a living. You cannot write a book about a subject in which you aren't expert without committing the vocabulary of the field to memory.
Google isn't memory.
The internet isn't memory.
The World Book Encyclopedia isn't memory.
spaced reptition: To write a book, you have to learn the vocabulary of the subject you are writing about. Also the schema, (pdf file - NOTE: I've read only the first page of this article) to the degree that you can.
And learning means committing to memory.
End of story.