Shades of Gray, Checking It Out

Musings From The Thought Machine: Human Memory vs. Computer Memory

0 Comments 15 July 2015

Socrates may have been mistaken about the effects of writing (not to mention the scientific method), but he was wise to warn us against taking memory’s treasures for granted. His prophesy of a tool that would “implant forgetfulness’ in the mind, providing ‘ a recipe not for memory, but for reminder,” has gained new currency with the coming of the web. The prediction may turn out to be merely pre-mature, not wrong. Of all the sacrifices we make when we devote ourselves to the internet as our universal medium, the greatest is likely to to be the wealth of connections within our own minds.

Its true that the web is itself a network of connections, but the hyperlinks that associate bits of online data act nothing like the synapses in our brain. The web’s links are just addresses, simple software tags that direct a browser to upload another discrete page of information. They have none of the organic richness or sensitivity of our synapses. The brain’s connections don’t merely provide access to memory, they in many ways constitute memories. The Web’s connections are not our connections and no matter how intelligent, subversive or complex companies like Google want to make their tracking mechanisms they will never become our connections.

When we outsource our memory to a machine we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity. William James, in concluding his 1892 lecture on memory said:

“ The connecting is the thinking. The connecting is the self”. In other words critical thinking is not only distinctly human but it is the essence of humanity.

Human memory is alive, computer memory never will be. When the human mind recalls memories to evaluate, associate and decipher it is in fact a different mind that originally experienced that memory. Computers will never be able to do this.

Screw all you kids

Mr. Miserable

- who has written 512 posts on The Shade.

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