Have you ever been told to memorise something and thought to yourself, “Do I really have to?”
Do you have to?
As a medical student, I was tasked with memorising heaps of information for my exams.
My problem with that? Most of it wasn’t necessary.
Do I really need to know the milestones of a child’s motor skill development if I’m not going to be a paediatrician?
Do I need to memorise the exact dosage of a non-emergency drug when it’s readily available on my ‘BNF’ app?
Yet, if I didn’t know these things, I’d drop significant marks in my exams.
If I couldn’t recall them immediately at the request of a senior doctor, I’d be scolded for it.
Memorising half of the things we do is outdated.
It just isn’t a consensus to think so yet.
“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think. “
— Albert Einstein
Why do we create tools to outsource the storage of information if we’re still going to dedicate large amounts of time and value to memorising that very same information?
Having the ability to memorise in the short and long term is an amazing feat of the human brain.
It just isn’t so crucial for the world we live in anymore.
Aside from emergencies and situations where you wouldn’t want to delay the retrieval of that information, why should those things be memorised?
Emergency drugs for anaphylaxis? — Yes, memorise it (don’t risk delaying).
The names of friends and family? — Yes, memorise them (would be awkward if you didn’t).
The best route to drive up north? — Look it up (you’ve got google maps right?).
The latest treatment for high blood pressure in a 70yr old south-Asian male? — Look it up (5 seconds won’t make a difference, guidelines are evolving all the time!).
We need to focus on delegating the task of a hard drive to computers and notebooks rather than our own brains.
Only then can we utilise our cognitive power towards higher-level thinking and problem-solving.
Now, as a doctor, I retrieve most of my information from a google search, my Evernote library and one of many medical apps.
Nice and easy.
It also saves me from the stresses of recalling incorrect information and the time needed to ensure it stays in my head.
The brain expels what isn’t deemed important and doesn’t pop up frequently.
So why should we force it to go against itself?
If something crops up frequently, that’s the world’s way of enforcing spaced repetition. You’re more likely to remember it now.
If it causes you immediate stress to forget something when you needed to know it, your brain will help to consolidate that information so that you don’t experience that same stress again.
Doesn’t that sound like a healthier, more efficient use of the brain?
There’s a radical shift brewing in the way that we process and memorise information.
People will tell you that you’re incompetent and unsafe for not committing everything to memory.
They’ll come around.