Friday, March 25, 2005

How Much Can Your Mind Keep Track Of?

Here is an interesting study. In a survey of academics (really graduate students and academic staff), it appeared that maximum number of different pieces of information (variables) people could keep in mind was: four. That's not much. It seems that when we have to juggle lots of data (for instance researching on different sites on the Internet, different opinions etc.) we are successfully 'chunking' information into smaller bits. They say: "It is a major function of expertise to recognize higher-order variables that relate chunked representations of lower-order variables".

Maybe part of the drive of many great thinkers toward simplicity? They may be reviewing much, but still shifting data into a few cohesive bits of information that fit into a unified whole.

How Much Can Your Mind Keep Track Of?- Press release
How Much Can Your Mind Keep Track Of? Article


  1. Interesting.

    The goal in mathematical theory and theoretical physics is usually to reduce a principle to the simplest equation possible (i.e. E=mc2). String theory for example, began being calculated in 26 dimensions and physicists have it down now, if I recall correctly, to under ten( not certain to the specifics).

    Perhaps there is an intrinsic Reductio processing mechanism at work here on the intuitive part of the brain driving the organization of the world into simple patterns for the consciously cognitive part of the mind to make use of ?

    BTW, I've recommended your blog to a number of colleagues and people in the blogosphere. Look forward to reading your book someday.

  2. Thanks a lot, mark and thank you also for your always thoughtful and helpful remarks. We're certainly having use a lot of reductio processing now to get the book down to a sufficient size, and simplify concepts to their essential parts without trivializing them.

    Despite all the emphasis on latest and greatest research, most people in education (and elsewhere) seem to have only a rudimentary understanding of how they think and how their thinking differs from other peoples'. Certainly there's a lot of catching up that has to be done.

    But the blogosphere is great. Blog readers are such a smart and insightful group. And it's neat going beyond the borders of our fields or occupations. We often find more thought-provoking ideas than in sitting through a slew of faculty meetings.