Information Overload—What Causes Our Minds to Be Less Sharp

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Whether we realize it or not, we are fed so much information every day. Think about all the gossip one must sift through as they check their Facebook feed. Think about the plethora of hours one has spent in classes absorbing all that information, both useful and not-so-useful. Think about the loads of YouTube videos you watch. Be it educational or for pleasure, everything you hear and watch is information that your memory has to process.

Whether we realize it or not, we are fed so much information every day. And as I recognize how my memory—which I prided in my youth—is becoming less and less sharp at the young age of 24, I begin to point my finger at the real culprit. It’s not my brain—it’s this information overload.

Before the printing press, people had to be careful how they stored what they wanted to say in their heads. In fact, Socrates was known to be an opponent to writing as it made the mind weak. Many orators used a technique called the method of loci where they create a “mind palace” to remember their place as they spoke. In a sense, the orator would store a visual cue in their palace. For example, if said speaker was to talk about a golden ticket, in one room you’d visually store a golden ticket. However, if the image is more ornate and almost hyperbolic, the easier it is to remember. So instead of just a golden ticket, it might be a golden ticket with the ability of speech upon a pedestal with the a grand spotlight. The purpose: as the speaker is linearly going through their speech, in their mind, they are walking down a corridor in their mind palace. When they hit the first door, they will instantly know to talk about a golden ticket because behind door number one is a talking ticket. Internal visual cues.

Greco-Romans weren’t the only ones who used this technique. In the season finale of the BBC program Sherlock, protagonist Sherlock Holmes implements this technique as well, but in a much more intricate approach. This allows Sherlock to pull out any memory from his head at a relatively quick speed. However, Sherlock is quite particular about what he stores in his head. In both the TV series and the original books, despite his brilliance, Sherlock did not know that the Earth revolved around the Sun. After his friend Dr. John Watson had informed him of this universal fact, his response: “Now that I do know it, I will do my very best to forget it.” For Sherlock, the mind had limited space for information to be stored. As Sherlock Holmes was a detective, he felt that the knowledge of the Earth revolving around the Sun was far from his need of learning, thus it needed to be removed so other things may fill its space.

While scientists have determined that the human mind has theoretically unlimited capacity to store information, retrieving that information is the hard part. Sherlock wasn’t too far off when he wanted his brain clear of unwanted data. While we may have unlimited storage space, think of how much we need to sift through to get to what we want. Think of all those Buzzfeed articles. While they may provide some sense of external affirmation, does it serve much in the end? Is it worth the slower recall of basic memories? Sure, we do have technology to help us remember facts and experiences, but there’s nothing that can replace the internal joy of reliving a good memory and sharing it from your own lips.

There are two ways of fixing this mental bottleneck. First option: find new ways to organize thoughts. Create thought palaces like Sherlock and older orators. If you create smooth passageways, memories will flow from your long-term memory to your short-term/working memory with more ease.

Second option: be aware of what you allow your brain to process. I harken back to the beginning of the blog: whether we realize it or not, we are fed so much information every day. For the most part, we have the power of what we allow our mind to be filled with. Let us not be so passive in what we mentally digest, but rather think about what we place in our mind. If need be, give your brains a break from all it must process. That said, just like feeding our body, I’m not suggesting that we remove all desserts from our mental diet. Let’s just be more aware of what we place in our mind.

About Jonathan Seligman

Jon is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of NWYT. While his main profession is in education/music/history, he has a deep passion for philosophy, theology, ice cream, and everything else that life has to offer. See All of Jon’s Posts

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