burke510: October 2011 Archives
For some time I have wondered why humans have developed memory into a three-stage process; sensory memories, short-term memory, followed by long-term memory. Specifically, I am most fascinated by the difference in short-term and long-term memory.
Short-term memory is defined as the ability to hold 7 +/-2 pieces that only last about 15 seconds in our brains. Long-term memory seems to be essentially infinite in storage, and lasts seemingly forever. What is the evolutionary advantage to keeping these two processes separate? If the long-term memory has an infinite capacity, would it be harmful to us if we remembered everything that ever entered our short-term memory? I can think of all kinds of advantages this would have, but we can only hypothesize on what types of harm it would have.
If we remembered everything we ever moved from sensory memory to short term memory would no longer need address books, flash cards and studying, and no more embarrassing moments of forgetting a new persons name. However, there must be a reason that humans did not evolve this way. Perhaps the human memory works like an external hard drive. Right out of the box, a new hard drive can clock very impressive numbers on data transfer speeds, but as the drive gets used more and has more data placed on it, those data transfer speeds slow down. Its possible the human brain works like this. If this were true, this would be one possible explanation as to why the human brain has placed a limit on how much it cares to remember. Or another possibility may be that long-term memory is not nearly as expansive as it may appear. Perhaps it is much more limited than we believe.
Although we may never know the exact reason humans have not evolved to combining short term and long term memory, it is a fascinating topic to imagine what could be/could have been if everything we ever came across was easy to recall.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I face a major problem every time I sit down at a computer. When I go to Google, with the full intention of doing something productive, I unconsciously begin to type "f-a-c-e-b..." oh wait, that's not what I wanted to do right now. I wanted to do something important, like research for a class. Not go on Facebook.
A lot of people now just naturally go onto facebook.com without even realizing their doing it. The unconscious mind notices habits and looks to continue them because it feels natural. To sit down at a computer, open up the Internet browser, and immediately go to Facebook has become second nature to many people around the world.
Looking more into the phenomena could be extremely useful. If we could understand why the mind attempts to repeat habits over and over, we may be better be able to understand why habits are so hard to break. Possibly habits go down to the deepest sections of the brain: the unconscious. We also may be better able to understand how mental addictions work and why the mind desires to continue these addictions or trends. Or maybe it's as simple that using Facebook is just an addiction.
Perhaps the greatest question of all is: Why does the brain unconsciously do something like return to Facebook when it knows the body has more important things to be doing. It's as if our unconscious intentionally wastes time by automatically performing actions that will waste time. We may one day be able to answer these questions and better understand why the brain appears to have a desire to waste time.
Speaking of which, I had Facebook open for the entire duration of writing this blog post.
The Blair Witch
The Blair Witch Project, a movie released in 1999, followed the experiences of a group of college students that traveled into the backwoods of Maryland to search for the supernatural Blair Witch. The Blair Witch is the topic of an urban legend, or myth, common in rural Maryland. It is simply a horror story to tell small children. The Blair Witch Project follows these College students in a documentary style format as they search for the infamous Blair Witch. When night falls upon these college students, strange things begin to happen, the footage gets shaky, and flashes of light and complete darkness ensue. According to this documentary, the college students are never seen again and the film that the viewers watched was "found" in the forest.
Pretty scary, right? The way that this footage was filmed made it feel so real to the viewer. These college students found the Blair Witch and were never seen again. The Blair Witch Project created a nationwide fear for this supernatural being in Maryland. Except, here's the catch: before 1999, no one, not even those in rural Maryland, had ever heard of the Blair Witch. These college students that created the documentary also created the entire urban legend. About the time previews started airing for this new film, the students created dozens of websites explaining the legend of the Blair Witch. (http://www.blairwitch.com/mythology.html). People who viewed the movie believed that the idea of the Blair Witch originated over a century ago, when in reality, it was an urban legend from only months before. These students ingeniously used the media, pop culture, and most of all, the Internet, to spawn an entirely new urban legend that is still believed by some today.
This extraordinary claim of a 100-year-old urban legend was believed by the masses even though all the evidence about it popped up on the internet only months before the release. It is not even a story passed down from father to son over the generations; it is simply a story that appeared on the internet. This hardly counts as extraordinary evidence to back up extraordinary claims. People should have asked themselves "have I ever heard of the Blair Witch before this movie" and the truth would have been always, no.
Oh, and the college students that were never seen again? They were seen at the Oscars that year and no one thought anything strange of it.