Working Memory

One thing I did on my trip was watch a video series from The Teaching Company called “The Intelligent Brain.” I wasn’t a huge fan of it – the instructor stammered a lot – but it did have some interesting nuggets of information. He talked a lot about the concept of working memory. This can be thought of as the chunks of data (like a number) we can keep in our head at a given point. Most people can track about seven bits. (It’s presumed this may be why phone numbers are seven digits long.) Additionally, a strong working memory in a person seems to correlate to general intelligence. (Though not always; there are “Rain Man” like Savants who can remember numbers thousands of digits long but can’t put on their own shoes.)

I watched the video about this and thought it was interesting but was wondering whether working memory is that important. Aside from remembering phone numbers, when do we really need to keep bits of information in our heads? But I was out for a hike yesterday and found myself going off on a lot of new paths. At each turn I mentally made a note so I could find my way back. Of course, when I did turn around I found I had forgotten even the most recent turns. Working memory, or the lack thereof, had screwed me again.

This opens up an interesting point. If working memory correlates to intelligence and my memory sucks then maybe I’m just not that intelligent. (I did have a somewhat informal IQ test in high school and I got a middling 100.) Good thing I can always fall back on my looks.

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