Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Old and Wiser?

For some time, I've had a pet theory regarding human learning and memory. It's not revolutionary, but the basic idea is we best remember things that are anomalous. The notion is consonant both with modern day machine learning algorithms and reflections on personal experience. After sufficient training, new data points fitting well inside the model don't alter the model significantly, especially in contrast to the initial data points laying the model's foundation. When you're young, the world is new and therefore much more influential in constructing your internal neural networks, but when you're older, it's harder to remember typical details because the model's already well established. If you see a romantic comedy for the first time, it's much easier to remember details than it is when you see the 100th romantic comedy--at that point surprises become few and far between, it's just yet another instance of a recognized form, and so there's less to remember.

Maybe it's just a convenient excuse for forgetfulness, but some similar findings have been making the news...

NYT: "When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong. Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit. The studies are analyzed in a new edition of a neurology book, “Progress in Brain Research.” Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer's disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful."

link: Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain

via 3QD


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