Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tip-of-the-Tongue Syndrome (TotTS) and Transactive Memory - An aside

Tip-of-the-tongue syndrome is an experience so common that cultures worldwide have a phrase for it.

Cheyenne Indians call it navonotootse’a, which means “I have lost it on my tongue”; in Korean it’s hyeu kkedu-te mam-dol-da, which has an even more gorgeous translation: “sparkling at the end of my tongue.”

The phenomenon generally lasts only a minute or so; your brain eventually makes the connection.

But … when faced with a tip-of-the-tongue moment, many of us have begun to rely instead on the Internet to locate information on the fly.

If life-logging … stores “episodic,” or personal, memories, Internet search engines do the same for a different sort of memory: “semantic” memory, or factual knowledge about the world.

When you visit Paris and have a wonderful time drinking champagne at a café, your personal experience is an episodic memory.

Your ability to remember that Paris is a city and that champagne is an alcoholic beverage – that’s semantic memory. …

What’s the line between our own, in-brain knowledge and the sea of information around us? Does it make us smarter when we can dip in so instantly? Or dumber with every search?

Thompson, the author of the book 'Smarter than you Think,' reminds us of the anecdote, by now itself familiar “to the point of banality,” about Socrates and his admonition that the “technology” of writing would devastate the Greek tradition of debate and dialectic, and would render people incapable of committing anything to memory because “knowledge stored was not really knowledge at all.”

He cites Socrates’s parable of the Egyptian god Theuth and how he invented writing, offering it as a gift to the king of Egypt, Thamus, who met the present with defiant indignation:

"This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. 
The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality".

Read more of this article by Mary Popova

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