Archive for September, 2012

How to better your brain to make it think and retain

Buried in my file of fodder for blogs I re-discovered a heads-up from the New York Times on 1/21/11 that giving yourself a quick quiz after studying something once works better than going over and over it.  The test-triggered active retrieval promoted meaningful learning by half in terms of how much students remembered a week later.

If you know something, or if you have stored information about an event from the distant past, and never use that information, never think of it, your brain is functionally equivalent to that of an otherwise identical brain that does not “contain” that information.

— Cognitive neuroscientist Endel Tulving quoted in this publication in Current Directions in Psychological Science of research on active retrieval by Jeffrey D. Karpicke of Purdue University

Coincidentally I just read this passage in “Brenner and God” by Wolf Haas, three time winner of the German Thriller Prize, which struck a chord about how the mind works in mysterious ways: “…just like a light that’s too bright can be bad for the eyes, so, too, can a mind that’s too awake be not at all good for thoughts…a half-asleep person can always outmatch an awake person by a long shot, no discussion.”

This happens with me when I am really wrapped up in a writing project or dealing with a very tough problem.  Then I cannot sleep well as thoughts keep winding through my head.  Often as I am nearly into a dream an answer comes to me.  Then the only thing is to get up and write it down in the hopes that next morning it still makes sense.  In any case, if I do not make a note, I then cannot sleep for fear of forgetting it.  But surprisingly these ideas do usually hold up to the light of day, albeit not always terribly brilliant.

Does this happen to you too?

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The next bubble that’s bound to burst: college tuition

I am glad to have graduated the youngest of my 5 children—now self-sustaining in Ohio State University’s biochemistry PhD program.  Even taxpayer-subsidized state-school students like her can easily pile up $10,000s in debt for ever-growing tuition. Those going to private institutions are likely to end up with a lot more money to pay back after they complete their studies.

One year ago my high-school classmate Mark Perry, now a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan, warned about a Higher Education Bubble.  Under the bombshell blurb “That’s a jump of 1,120%” [from cost of college in 1978], the latest (August 27) issue of Bloomberg Businessweek extends the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Perry’s scary chart to 2012. Given what happened in housing, this is becoming extremely alarming!

Students are paying less and less of direct college costs, relying more on government grants and loans. That has encouraged universities to jack up tuition expenses, fueling a vicious circle reminiscent of the housing bubble.

– David Hogberg, Investors Business Daily

A more graphic illustration is provided via this glimpse at a Broadside by Glenn Reynolds.  View his video and weep if you have children heading for college.  It’s hard to imagine that this can go on (graduates paying many $100s per month for debt) for much longer.  The meager educational-returns on massive investments (loaded into huge debts) just do not seem sustainable.

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