Prentiss Riddle: Time

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Entropy, knowledge and memory

A while back Caterina blogged about her sense of her finite capacity for knowledge.

Try as one might, try as I might, that is, I cannot cram more understanding, more thinking, or more knowing into this pre-ordained or self-limited Knowosphere.

I don't really believe that my mental capacity is a zero-sum game, but I do have the sense that storage costs more than it used to. I may be mixing up two loosly connected things here, "knowledge" and "memory", that is, a set of usefully-organized information and related skills vs. a collection of experiences and the related feelings and fact(oid)s around them. But I do feel very strongly the old idea that time moves more quickly as I age.

Actually, that's misstated, too. I think a minute can be long or short whether you're 2 or 92, as in Einstein's old saw about the hot stove and the pretty girl. But the memory of time gets drastically compressed as one ages. My hunch is that that has less to do with brain capacity than with the fact that new experiences more readily make memories than old, familiar ones. I know that my ten days in Brazil last January loom much larger in my memory than the ten days before or after and the first weeks after each of my daughters was born seem like years.

If I'm right, then maybe seeking out new experiences is a way of fighting back against the time-shrinkage idea. And if memory and knowledge are more tightly connected than I think, perhaps it would work against the zero-sum Knowosphere model as well.

This all comes up because of a forthcoming book I spotted while browsing Amazon's Early Adopter Store. The book is Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past by Douwe Draaisma and Arno Pomerans. I hope I remember to watch for it when it comes out in October.

time 2004.06.26 link


"If I'm right, then maybe seeking out new experiences is a way of fighting back against the time-shrinkage idea. And if memory and knowledge are more tightly connected than I think, perhaps it would work against the zero-sum Knowosphere model as well."

They've proven that people who continue to actively learn things (like taking up a language, craft, or skill later in life) are more likely to delay Alzeimers and other memory related deterioration.

My grandfather had Alzeimers and I worry about developing it myself. I probably won't have to worry about this for a while but I know for sure I'm never going to be one of those people who just gives up on learning new things. To me, the acquisition of new skills *is* living.

BTW - I didn't know about the "early adopter" store. That sounds cool!

Mel [mel cxe htmel punkto net] • 2004.07.20
I'm reading a book by Don DeLillo right now - Cosmopolis - and he thoroughly examines how much information and sensation one person can accumulate and how we become more and more reliant on technology as a memory (maybe even consciousness, he hints) extension. Got a lot of bad reviews, but I'm enjoying it.

oso [oso cxe el-oso punkto net] • 2004.08.03
Which in turn reminds me of something from an undergraduate anthropology class about how the individual capacity for knowledge has probably been unchanged since our genetic makeup stabilized however many hundred thousand years ago. If we see an increase in complexity from hunter-gatherers to early civilizations to modern technological societies it's because of economic and political developments which allowed for ever greater specialization -- different knowledge in the heads of different people -- not an increase in what any individual can know.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.08.03
Which in turn reminds me of a book I read earlier this year called Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness by Merlin Donald. Donald, against academic consensus, says that human consciousness has not really evolved much sense we mutated from primates, but instead that what we call "consciousness" is really just the culture that we have accumalated and kept networked amongst ourselves.

Now clearly, if that were true then your average gorilla should be able to pick up Martha Stewart Living and sit at the dinner table with us, but it still makes an important point that we are only what we can manage to remember.

Every blog on the net should help expand our networked memory, our global culture. Now, if we could just learn how to stop killing each other.

oso [oso cxe el-oso punkto net] • 2004.08.04
Now having some personal experience of the time-compression-with-age phenomenon, I suspect several factors are in play, and I don't think they relate so much to ultimate information capacity.

New experiences are filed into an increasingly stable structure of worldview and personality as you age. If I see what I think is a terrific movie, I can't help but place it into a continuum of my previous experiences--it's harder for it to be singular.

The state of your emotions while acquiring new experiences makes a huge difference to how they are processed and stored. That's why songs you hear when young have so much more punch than at other times in your life. I don't believe AI will get very far until computers have some form of emotional life.

Hormone levels have a lot to do with the state of your emotions and how you acquire new experience.

Since you will be periodically called upon to verbally relate your experiences, in order to make sense of them (and remember them), you also tend to edit (and delete) into story form.

I think you are right that "seeking out new experiences is a way of fighting back against the time-shrinkage idea." But to work, it must somehow challenge your established view of things...and that gets more difficult as time goes on.

Mike Ransom • 2004.08.04
More time >