Fully externalizing memory

Thoughts in your head exist in a wonderful state. Each thought is like a whole tree of spindly little branches and leaves connecting to other thoughts and providing context. When you write down a thought or bookmark a site, it’s like just getting the trunk.

Sometimes you can get more. When I write down a thing to do on a future date on my calendar, it’s accessible in a nice state. If I take a photo of a memory, it’s often easier to remember the full context of the memory than it is if I just write it down. But you can never get the full memory tree.

But you do get two benefits from externalizing memory. First, (semi-)permanence. Especially when it’s in The Cloud. My blog will last at least as long as Google. (maybe longer, if I back it up myself too.) This is useful even in the short term: the other day, I forgot that I blogged this article, and then I found it again, and now I’m starting a new post based on EEGs and wakefulness.

Anyway, the second benefit to externalizing memory is the ability to quit worrying about it. Working memory is crucial to everything, and tiny (that old “7 +/- 2”). Say I have “remember to do this thing next Saturday” holding up one chunk of memory, now I’m down to 6 +/- 2. Losing a chunk of working memory is like losing a finger. So I write it down on Google Calendar, tell it to email me a reminder, and then I get my finger back.

So I feel like I’m down a few fingers. Here are some things I’d like to externalize:

- Instead of worrying about “creating jobs” and making more work, let’s use our prosperity to work less. Or redefine “work”. Hell yes! I imagine a world where people work because they want to, not because they need to survive. Post-scarcity world. I’m pretty friggin' lucky enough to live there now. What happens when everyone does? Could the US, big as it is, survive this transition? Could any country?

- I continue to dig Alex Pang’s Contemplative Computing blog. Quote from the Buddha: “The Buddha’s laboratory was himself, and he generalized his findings to cover all human beings." Follow the link to “program of weight loss"; it’s pretty good. Well researched, yet readable, and touches on a lot of things I’m interested in.

- Another link off that, this time to “What Actually Was the Stone Age Diet?”, maybe the best explanation of “caveman/paleo/etc” diets. It’s somewhat professional, remarkably free of histrionics, not affiliated with anyone who wants to sell his own book, and boils down to:
1. There was no one “Stone Age Diet.” Over the last couple hundred thousand years, humans ate roots and berries and meat, or cooked roots and tubers, or a wide range of plants and some meat, or a ton of meat.
2. The only things that we certainly haven’t eaten for more than ~5000 years are cereal grains and milk.
3. Even then, we don’t know how long it takes our body to adapt to a new diet.
My conclusions remain mostly the same: I’m not interested in counting carbs vs. proteins, but I remain open to the possibility that grains aren’t awesome for us. Still gotta run that next experiment. (my plans are to do this in April, when my life has stabilized a bit.)

- arg side note on food which is disappointing because I had a great segue to get back into talking about self-monitoring. I don’t know where or why I picked up Josh Whiton’s blog in my Google Reader, but it’s great. He talks about food here; I’m intrigued. (he just wrote about monks too. Always cool.)

- arg arg side note about monks: if I were that 93 year old 70-year monk, I feel like I’d be sort of upset about my life! I’m sure he’s not. But still! This is why I’m feeling the “worldly AND monkly success” path instead of the “mountaintop” one. (possibly I am brilliant; more likely I am too naive and restless.)

- okay back to self monitoring/experimenting. It’s hitting the mainstream. Also led me to Seth Roberts, who might be crazy (ad hominem alert!), but has written some stuff that’s inspiring about research I care about anyway.

- incidentally, Readability is a breath of fresh air in the smoggy Beijing of the internet.

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