• Question: how do you remember so much stuff about science

    Asked by jejones to Meeks, Pete, Stephen, Steve, Tom on 21 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Stephen Curry

      Stephen Curry answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      Hi JeJones,

      To be honest, I don’t really know. When I was younger I think I had a pretty good memory and retained facts quite well. This ability extended not just to science facts but to lots of trivia such as which actors starred in which films. As a result I am a great person to have on a Trivial Pursuit team. 😉

      These days, however (I am now 46), I am beginning to think that my memory is not as good as it once was. The original memories are there but I find myself more and more forgetting stuff that people have told me. This could be because I am probably busier than I have ever been before but I am a little concerned…

      Fortunately I can keep an electronic diary on my phone so that I never forget appointments. Well, almost never…!

    • Photo: Steve Roser

      Steve Roser answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      As I get older, I remember less and less….I think the thing is to try and get away from trying to be too memory based and move to problem solving – I get a little frustrated with my students when I ask them a question and they say ‘thats not how you did it in teh workshop’ if its a little different. Try and work as much as you can out, and leave as little as possible to memory.
      Someone once asked Einstein what his telephone number was. He answered ‘I don’t know! why should i ! you can look it up in a book!’

    • Photo: Tom Hartley

      Tom Hartley answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      Hi Jejones,

      1) I don’t remember everything, but I know where to look things up if I’ve forgotten them.
      2) It’s easier to remember something if you understand it. For example, expert chess players can remember the positions of the pieces on the board really well. They understand what a particular position means – which player has the advantage, which moves they might consider, and so on. This only works if they are real positions from a real chess game. So if you understand something you can use that knowledge to incorporate new facts and ideas into memory more easily. When I am in a class or lecture (I still go to lots of lectures) I listen really carefully and try to understand what the speaker is talking about. Ideally I try to guess what they will say next, or think of an interesting question that I can ask at the end. I think it helps me remember what they’re saying. Having said that I often can’t remember where or when I heard something. It’s a good idea to take notes while listening — the very act of writing notes may help you remember. I notice some of my students writing almost every word I say – this makes me worry as I think they may not be thinking about what I am saying.
      3) If you want to improve your memory there are a few tricks you can use, and one of the best is, supposedly the method of loci. which involves thinking of the different items that you are trying to store placed around an imaginary place in your mind. The part of your brain that is responsible for forming rich and lasting memories (the hippocampus) is also involved in finding your way around the world; this kind of memory works well when each piece of information is associated with a place (like a real life event).

    • Photo: Marieke Navin

      Marieke Navin answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      Hi jejones, well I don’t really remember *that* much. I use the science that I know about every day, so I get to know it pretty well. I studied it a lot during my first year, and read around the subject so I knew what was going on. The stuff I don’t use regularly I don’t remember and would have to look it up. The good thing about physics though is that you don’t need to remember loads of facts, you can use scientific knowledge to work things out, derive things and reason answers.

    • Photo: Pete Edwards

      Pete Edwards answered on 21 Jun 2010:

      I must admit that as I get older it seems that my memory is getting worse. I remember a lot of facts because I use them all the time but the art of being a scientist is knowing where to look for things when you don’t know the answer and how to apply basic ideas to new situations. You really only need to understand basic principles and ideas in physics – the real skill is being able to apply these to new problems that you’ve not thought about before.