I want a better memory.

by alexflint1 min read2nd Apr 201129 comments


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I suspect that forgetfulness is the single largest hindrance to me improving my rationality. This isn't something I've seen others report on LessWrong, so I'm suspicious that I'm in some kind of self-serving spiral, or that I'm doing something obvious wrong. So, I'm seeking feedback on (a) whether the above statement is true -- whether forgetfulness is likely to really be a dominant hindrance; (b) what I can do about it; and (c) why others haven't reported this.

Ways that I suspect forgetfulness harms me:

  • I forget past experiences that would otherwise allow me to observe correlations and extrapolate time-series style. Did my mood improve last time I called this friend? Was I more productive during that period where I got less sleep?
  • I fail to recall evidence that would be salient when evaluating probabilities. This includes evidence relevant not only to coffee-time discussions on abstract topics, but also questions that occur to me about akrasia and the like.
  • I can't remember names of authors and papers that could be relevant to ideas that arise during my research. Searching online for papers is fine for major literature reviews, but enormously expensive to evaluate hour-by-hour conjectures that occur to me.
  • When I encounter the same problem multiple times, I forget how I solved the problem last time.
  • When a new productivity/social/rationality strategy *does* work, I forget to keep using it. This isn't only about laziness: sometimes I actually wonder explicitly whether strategy X worked, and I can't remember.
  • I forget names, faces, places, facts and figures. But I understand this one is quite common.
  • I forget all the ways that forgetfulness frustrates me.

Steps I've taken:

  • I keep an elaborate diary with appointments like "bring USB drive home from work" and "purchase bread en route to Sam's house".
  • I keep an elaborate e-notebook where I try to record my "brain state" so that I can more quickly pick up where I left off with my work.
  • Every time I solve a technical problem, I write it down.
  • I use a memory app called mnemosyne to memorize foreign language words, names of jitsu techniques, etc.
The write-everything-down strategy has helped some, but it's *orders of magnitude less effective* than recalling stuff right from my brain. It's like replacing a CPU's L1 cache with a magnetic hard drive and expecting performance not to drop.
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