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July 25, 2013 / A

Memory structures

From The Design of Everyday Things, p. 127 (emphasis added):

Conscious thought is severely limited by the small capacity of short-term memory. Five or six items is all that can be kept available at any one moment. But subconscious thought is one of the tools of the conscious mind, and the memory limitation can be overcome if only an appropriate organizational structure can be found. Take fifteen unrelated things and it is not possible to keep them in conscious memory at once. Organize them into a structure and it is easy, for only that one structure has to be kept in conscious memory. As a result of this power of organization to overcome the limits of working memory, explanation and understanding become essential components of conscious thought: with understanding and explanation, the number of things that can be kept consciously in mind expands enormously.

As coda to this post, I’ve had a much easier time retaining that block of rules. I acknowledge that part of the reason for that might be that I’ve focused on that block exclusively; if I tried analyzing other blocks in that way, perhaps I’d have a harder time. But for the time being, I’m content in knowing that I’ve made a troublesome passage a little easier.


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