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It's Not Memory Loss - Older Minds May Just Be Fuller of Information

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the filled-to-the-briim dept.

Science 206

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "Benedict Carey writes in the NYT that the idea that the brain slows with age is one of the strongest in all of psychology. But a new paper suggests that older adults' performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing, and not cognitive decline. A team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases. Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. When the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging 'deficits' largely disappeared. That is to say, the larger the library you have in your head, the longer it usually takes to find a particular word (or pair). 'What shocked me, to be honest, is that for the first half of the time we were doing this project, I totally bought into the idea of age-related cognitive decline in healthy adults,' says lead author Michael Ramscar but the simulations 'fit so well to human data that it slowly forced me to entertain this idea that I didn't need to invoke decline at all.' The new report will very likely add to a growing skepticism about how steep age-related decline really is. Scientists who study thinking and memory often make a broad distinction between 'fluid' and 'crystallized' intelligence. The former includes short-term memory, like holding a phone number in mind, analytical reasoning, and the ability to tune out distractions, like ambient conversation. The latter is accumulated knowledge, vocabulary and expertise. 'In essence, what Ramscar's group is arguing is that an increase in crystallized intelligence can account for a decrease in fluid intelligence,' says Zach Hambrick, In the meantime the new digital-era challenge to 'cognitive decline' can serve as a ready-made explanation for blank moments, whether senior or otherwise (PDF). 'It's not that you're slow,' says Carey. 'It's that you know so much.'"

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206 comments

what's "interesting"? (1)

eyenot (102141) | about 6 months ago | (#46117489)

What *I* find "interesting" is that even though old grandparents have always been saying things like "It's not that grandma's getting stupid, sweetie, it's just that when you're my age you know so much that it takes awhile to remember what you know", none of that matters if the newest generation hasn't climbed out of their dungeons to announce that they simulated the same thing on a computer. Relevance, anyone? Reverence, maybe?

Re:what's "interesting"? (5, Funny)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | about 6 months ago | (#46117515)

There's a word for people like you. I can't quite recall what it is at the moment, but I know there is a word for people like you.

Re:what's "interesting"? (3, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about 6 months ago | (#46117595)

Don't worry, it will come to you tomorrow morning.
I've been known to blurt out answers to three day old questions, and have my geezer friends nod in agreement as if no time had passed.
Its hard to dig up a single nugget from under under that pile of tailings I've accumulated over the years.

Re:what's "interesting"? (5, Funny)

chromas (1085949) | about 6 months ago | (#46117779)

Its hard to dig up a single nugget from under under that pile of tailings I've accumulated over the years.

It's okay; you can blurt it out in three or so days when the article is re-posted.

Re:what's "interesting"? (3, Interesting)

buswolley (591500) | about 6 months ago | (#46117987)

And that is what old age does. You forget what you've said, and you say it again. Longer search time requires one to maintain the goal of the search in mind, longer. This could potentially explain the wandering phenomenon in old age, where the mind wanders and doesnt' stay on task. The search requires more investment, more time, more concentration. Any Interruption to that search will require a different search to recover the goal/search you were originally maintaining. But this search for your old goal takes a while too and, oh a pretty flower.

Re:what's "interesting"? (3, Interesting)

umghhh (965931) | about 6 months ago | (#46118195)

You first say, you forget what you've said then you say it is not forgetting but being unable to complete search before new one comes. Maybe that is already a sign you know :)

I also noticed that wandering about is (in my case) more of a character trait, than age related thing. I was mind wandering much more, when I was young. It took years till I learned, that I do and few more to learn how to control that. Learning that I do wander about was a tough part but few 'friends' were very helpful in teasing me into discussions because it amused them how I wander about connecting more and more of new aspects. They had golden moments of entertainment out of that which I noticed years later when I changed environment and they became less careful and more blunt. Come to think of it, this maybe the same process: my thinking was faster than the search process - I was just made that way. Reading Encyclopedia (does anybody here still knows what that is and how did it look like without looking in wikipedia or asking dr Google - young colleague of mine I interrogated on the subject yesterday, knew what that is but have never seen one) was one of the things that would help create effect by overloading brain with shit in relatively young age already. Which then leads me to the point where I think it is not really the amount of information but rather the spread of it - most people do not gather knowledge and brain is good in storing only some facets of events (sort of mp3 of nature), problems with search is much more visible when you have to search in this chain of memories and then the other etc.

interesting subject early in the morning. I suppose I spent early ours at work thinking about that and not about verifying why the system is f.ed up again and who did it.

Re: what's "interesting"? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117657)

And there's a word for people like you too. How about moron?

Re: what's "interesting"? (0)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 6 months ago | (#46118991)

And there's a word for people like you: humorless. Sheesh, I'm past the half century mark and I thought it was funny.

Re:what's "interesting"? (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | about 6 months ago | (#46118361)

There's a word for people like you. I can't quite recall what it is at the moment, but I know there is a word for people like you.

That's ok I'll ask the nurse :)

Re:what's "interesting"? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117677)

It's interesting that a joke by way of explanation actually turned out to be a potential answer? Coincidences are remarkable, but usually not particularly interesting.

Re:what's "interesting"? (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 6 months ago | (#46118087)

I've always used it as an excuse that my brain was full, now it seems I was right.

Re:what's "interesting"? (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 6 months ago | (#46118421)

Yes, now we're busy determining if it's full of male or female bovine exhaust.

Re:what's "interesting"? (1)

thePig (964303) | about 6 months ago | (#46118259)

Does this also mean that if you sleep less, you become older fast?

Re:what's "interesting"? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118679)

Weve had our freedoms eroded nearly away over a century of voting for the wrong party. Were spending untold amounts to fight a war over oil and spending squat on alternative energy, comparitively. We still celebrate holidays designed to empty the wallets of the poor, drive up the suicide rates and set families against one another. People still watch daytime television.

My point? The headline and research should read Its Not Memory Loss;' Older Minds May Just Be Full of Shit.
Full of information? What a pantload of self affirmative goo. People are morons, I see it everyday.
Try not to waste anyones tax dollars on subsidized research designed to further the relaxation time of professors! Apparently, this is not just a U.S. thing.

Re: what's "interesting"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118947)

Too bad you didn't get that puppy when you needed one. There are good, wise, and loving old people. Hope you meet one soon.

Coincidence (1)

Eloking (877834) | about 6 months ago | (#46117509)

Wow talk about a huge coincidence. I was thinking about this yesterday.

Re:Coincidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117559)

Wow talk about a huge coincidence. I was thinking about this yesterday.

You'd better take a few days off then and mentally rotate the old tires before you wind up prematurely stupid.

Interesting Article! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117513)

Wrote, I was so amazed when they talked about... Wait, what was this about again?

Holmes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117517)

You need to keep a tidy attic if you want to find things.

Re:Holmes (2)

icebike (68054) | about 6 months ago | (#46117619)

Nah, just need to keep notes on where you put things.
Have the location of the notes tattooed on your left wrist.
Have the words ”other wrist ” tattooed on your right wrist.

Re:Holmes (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117801)

I keep a notes pointer on both sides. I have a Redundant Array of Independent Wrists.

Re:Holmes (3, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | about 6 months ago | (#46118429)

Dual core ARM chips?

Pretty much sums it up well. (4, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 6 months ago | (#46117527)

And that's my experience - too many names to keep track of, too much information inflow to filter makes me forget names of people even though I recognize their faces.

The big problem with age is that your mind gets filled up with information, and it's hard to intentionally forget stuff. Sometimes it's easier to remember old stuff than new. If there only was a way to forget some bad old stuff to make room for new...

One way to improve the situation is to lower the time spent watching TV since that's a giant information feed. And lack of sleep impacts the memory capacity too.

Also realize that the human brain has evolved to be an information store and an association processor to pick out a good solution for a problem based on what seems to be insufficient data. This is of course not always a blessing - it's a curse too, and that's what causes the balance between a genius and a mad man. I would like to extend the quote by Arthur Schopenhauer: "Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see." to also add "A mad man sees a target that isn't there."

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117551)

That doesn't explain why with ages some people get wise and others do not.

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 6 months ago | (#46118171)

The same reason cheese and wine get better with age, and milk doesn't. When you start with bad ingredients, you'll sour, not get better.

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118561)

Far from all wines age well! And cheese is made from milk, so by your argument it should be a good ingredient.

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (1)

arvindsg (1757328) | about 6 months ago | (#46117817)

If there only was a way to forget some bad old stuff to make room for new...

Yes there is, its called death( and eventual rebirth of base materials as brand new fresh brain)

Re: Pretty much sums it up well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117849)

Is that a generational garbage collector?

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (5, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 6 months ago | (#46118041)

Obligatory Simpsons:

Homer:Marge, every time I learn something new it pushes something old out of my brain, Remember that time I learned how to make wine and forgot how to drive?
Marge:Thats because you were drunk.
Homer:And how

Simpsons was spoofing Married w Children (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118867)

Obligatory Simpsons:

Homer:Marge, every time I learn something new it pushes something old out of my brain, Remember that time I learned how to make wine and forgot how to drive?

Marge:Thats because you were drunk.

Homer:And how

That was intended as send-up of an older Married With Children episode (from back when Christina Applegate had boobs): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0642312/quotes?ref_=tt_ql_3 [imdb.com]

Bud Bundy: You have to understand, Kelly's brain can hold anything. But there are some things you have to know. One: that it's totally empty.
Al: Woudn't you know it.
Bud Bundy: And two: that you can't just shove information into her head. You have to be careful. Feed her information slowly, bit by bit, drop by drop, until she's full.
Al: Full?
Bud Bundy: Oh, yeah. Kelly's brain can actually get full with information. And then you got to be really careful. Because each new thought after that will totally replace an old one. That's why Kelly forgot to wear a blouse on the day she went to take her drivers ed exam.

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (1)

allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) | about 6 months ago | (#46118283)

The big problem with age is that your mind gets filled up with information, and it's hard to intentionally forget stuff.

Vodka.

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 6 months ago | (#46118287)

One way to improve the situation is to lower the time spent watching TV since that's a giant information feed.

Depends on what you're watching....

Re:Pretty much sums it up well. (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about 6 months ago | (#46118539)

I wonder if this explains why some young people seems so damn stupid. They get fed far to much useless information constantly via the phone their eyes seem to be glued to, and it has filled up their brains.

Flawed model (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117531)

IMHO, their "advanced learning models" does a poor job simulating the reality. That results in "shocking results". The reality is that physical damage in the aging brain can be seen, low memory recovery and basic IQ can be measured. They forgot to add to their model known degradation. other than that it looks nice and, more important, politically correct. It's somewhat similar to the idea that brain size doesn't matter. :) The problem is that in sports for some mysterious reasons men and women are separated...

Re:Flawed model (5, Insightful)

q.kontinuum (676242) | about 6 months ago | (#46117703)

They are speaking about healthy aged people, which probably excludes most physical damages or degenerating diseases. And no, intelligence can not be measured in a reasonable way. Practicing typical IQ test tasks will increase your achievements there while this "brain-jogging" does not improve your capabilities to solve differently structured problems.

I accept there is a correlation between test results and perceived IQ, but since the very definition of intelligence is already controversial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence#Definitions) and tests are probably applied most of the time to measure younger people (career planning etc.), and also the time spent on a single test is very limited, it seems quite conceivable to me that some people might be good at solving more complex real live (common sense: display higher intelligence) while they suck at short tasks. From personal experience (older colleagues) I'd say there is a bias towards this type of people in older people.

So can I sue my college? (4, Funny)

Solandri (704621) | about 6 months ago | (#46117583)

For requiring me to take a course on Victorian-era English literature as part of my engineering degree graduation requirements? By forcing me to take the course, they literally filled my brain up with useless stuff which will accelerate the onset of age-related dementia.

Re:So can I sue my college? (4, Insightful)

eyepeepackets (33477) | about 6 months ago | (#46117791)

As an old English/Philosophy major who really loves Victorian-era literature, I reflect your resentment. What you choose to do with this reflected image is yet another reflection. I had to have science credits, took Biology classes and have benefitted both directly and indirectly ever since. Perhaps it's an attitudinal thing?

Re:So can I sue my college? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117979)

I don't see what elevation could possibly have to do with it.

Re:So can I sue my college? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118097)

As an old English/Philosophy major who really loves Victorian-era literature, I reflect your resentment. What you choose to do with this reflected image is yet another reflection. I had to have science credits, took Biology classes and have benefitted both directly and indirectly ever since. Perhaps it's an attitudinal thing?

No, it's obvious that taking science classes is beneficial to everyone. It's just the Victorian-era literature that's useless for most things.

Funny because its true (3, Funny)

JonnyCalcutta (524825) | about 6 months ago | (#46118441)

How I wish I had mod points today, although not sure if I'd mod it funny or insightful ;)

Re:So can I sue my college? (3, Interesting)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | about 6 months ago | (#46118053)

For requiring me to take a course on Victorian-era English literature as part of my engineering degree graduation requirements? By forcing me to take the course, they literally filled my brain up with useless stuff which will accelerate the onset of age-related dementia.

No, that's not useless. If you were paying attention it may have forced you to learn some proper English. I'm not sure if the summary headline fits the article content completely. TFA seems to be trying to say (caveat. I'm not a psychologist and I only read TFA and parts of the paper) is something to the effect that for example: in the old days when there was no internet or the net was more limited than it is now, you had to solve your own problems and that stimulates your brain and 'trains' it. A person who has the internet at his/her disposal and solves most of their problems by hitting experts-exchange, stack overflow or some such web and benefits from hard thinking done by others does not have their brain stimulated in the same way because they don't have to remember this stuff and don't figure it out on their own. They can just book mark it whereas 20 years ago you 'd better write yourself a private howto once you solved your conundrum in case you ran into this again five years and that makes things concerning the problem it self stick a bit more than hitting [Ctrl]+[D]. If you just use search engines to search for solutions to problems the information retained probably has more (though not exclusively) to do with how to find the solution than how to figure the problem out by yourself. Basically if you are hit by tough problems when you are younger and forced solve them yourself and to exercise your brain it means that when you get older it takes you longer to remember things because you have to 'search a bigger database'. not because your brain is getting slower. Furthermore if your short term memory and analytic abilities decline with age you can make up for it with experience, expertise and 'brain training' received in your youth. Finally, as you age, you also gain the ability to notice subtle side effects of doing something as you get older that a younger person does not notice as a result of your brain being trained more and having more experience. Something like:

Younger person: If we connect this doohickey with that thingemabomb we get effect X.
Older person: Hmmmmm.....
Younger person: (impatiently annoyed) What!
Older person: Well, that's true but if somebody then presses button A while dohickey is in state Y the thingemabob will short out.
Younger person: (slightly embarrased) Oh, yeah right.

Re:So can I sue my college? (1)

umghhh (965931) | about 6 months ago | (#46118233)

20years ago I still had a documentation to speak of, now I have piece of garbage that kind of works but not really but to make thinks cheaper does not have any documentation at all. Gosh, today, even when I move between projects in the same company, I even have to spent week or two every time to reverse engineer their build system because every time it is different and every time it is not documented while it is also made interdependent in places where one would not expect it. Most of the problems I had 20ya were compact comparing with wide spread shit of modern decentralized systems. This is true with technology I work with as well as with the state administration I have to fight with to have the right to see my kids or get my insurance company to pay. All these was simpler back then. I am pretty sure that when my Pa tried to collect money from his account he was not confronted with BS as HSBC customers are today.

Re:So can I sue my college? (5, Insightful)

JakartaDean (834076) | about 6 months ago | (#46118059)

For requiring me to take a course on Victorian-era English literature as part of my engineering degree graduation requirements? By forcing me to take the course, they literally filled my brain up with useless stuff which will accelerate the onset of age-related dementia.

As an engineering graduate of 1986, I joined a group of classmates a couple of years ago on a visit to the Dean, who asked us what we would change, looking back, in the curriculum. There were two answers common to all of us: project management and English writing. We are all in management now, not practical engineering, and need words more than we need numbers and formulae. An English writing course should be required for all pure and applied science majors, in my opinion.

And I think you should have paid more attention in your one class: literally doesn't mean what you think it does.

Re:So can I sue my college? (1)

Nephandus (2953269) | about 6 months ago | (#46118173)

Speaking as someone who had to endure exactly that course, it's bullshit. The normed and the bullshitters passed easily. I got lowered grades despite the teacher admitting I was the only one putting thought into anything. What's that tell you? Of course, more depressingly, the same thing happen in philosophy classes, expect the better grades went to stoners that couldn't form coherent paragraphs.

Re:So can I sue my college? (2)

umghhh (965931) | about 6 months ago | (#46118285)

so a group of classmates decide what was missing in the course you took 30ya. I doubt this 'if we did it again we should have learned this and that too' approach. It is counterproductive as it is pure waste of time for majority. I wonder for instance about these two things:
  1. How big part of your original group was this visiting party? Do you think all of them would need this English writing course now?
  2. How applicable would this English writing course be now - things change, ways of communicating do too. We use the same words but we know (I hope) about some golden rules like that majority of what you say is lost anyway, keep it simple etc. Some good teachers back then could have sensed or known this but chances are that they would not.

One more thing:

literally doesn't mean what you think it does.

Indeed: if you look at m-w or any other dictionary then you may notice that the modern use have two opposite meanings. That belongs to the richness and sophistication of modern language. It may be that English writing course could have indicated this back in 80ties but I doubt if that would have helped you. Maybe you should take the course now? The way I see it, old courses we took as young people were meant to give us two things: some background knowledge in subject we chose as well as ability to learn things that we need in working life. Overloading the course with shit has added advantage of making sure you can learn how to ignore things you do not need but that is an expensive course and possibility of added value is small as some people would have learned the stuff anyway instead of having constructively critical approach.

You have management position and your buddies too - fine, try to make the world a better place instead of trying to enforce literal use of the word 'literally'.

Re:So can I sue my college? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118755)

and this is why that science class trumps the English class

Science teaches something true (subject to refinement).
English teaches fad and fashion.

Re:So can I sue my college? (1)

u38cg (607297) | about 6 months ago | (#46118489)

>>literally doesn't mean what you think it does.

Oh yes it literally does... [oxforddictionaries.com]

Re:So can I sue my college? (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 6 months ago | (#46118799)

" There were two answers common to all of us: project management and English writing. We are all in management now, not practical engineering, and need words more than we need numbers and formulae"

Seriously? If you're a graduate who couldn't write properly then shame on you. As for a project management section - what a waste of time. For a start not everyone wants to go into management - I didn't out of choice as even the thought of it depresses me - and secondly engineering course should be about engineering.

If you need to learn how to fill out powerpoint charts and schedules there are plenty of evening classes that'll teach you if 25 years isn't long enough for you to figure it out on your own, but for gods sake don't waste undergraduates time with that trivial rubbish.

Re:So can I sue my college? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118569)

For requiring me to take a course on Victorian-era English literature as part of my engineering degree graduation requirements? By forcing me to take the course, they literally filled my brain up with useless stuff which will accelerate the onset of age-related dementia.

No, you should thank and donate to your college for forcing you to take a course which will increase your odds of finding a potential mate.

Re:So can I sue my college? (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 6 months ago | (#46118647)

They're not talking about dementia. The kind of "senior moments" they're talking about may seem similar, but it's a different thing. There are studies that show that if you keep learning, it helps *stave off* dementia. Slow, but sure.

Re:So can I sue my college? (1)

gtall (79522) | about 6 months ago | (#46118817)

Ah, so they attempted to prevent you from turning into the unidimensional being you've become, shame on them. What do people do for fun in your dimension?

foremost... (1)

skids (119237) | about 6 months ago | (#46117589)

...um... annotation.

Re:foremost... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117605)






poke

Twenty questions (4, Interesting)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 6 months ago | (#46117597)

Jeff Hawkins [wikipedia.org] pointed out that the game "twenty questions" is popular and significant. In twenty yes/no questions you can identify one million objects or concepts (2^20 = 1024*1024).

He conjectured that the reason the game isn't "twenty five questions" or any other number is that the data capacity of the human brain is about this much. By the anthropic principle, we use twenty questions because a game with any other number would be too easy or hard.

(Perhaps the game is interesting because our brains hold 2 million concepts, giving the game a 50% chance of success. While arguable, this is still predicts a range of "about a million" concepts for the fully loaded brain.)

This number (and the conjecture) has stuck with me. The idea that you can build a culturally literate [wikipedia.org] mind - with the ability to understand a political speech, read a newspaper article, apply for a job - would take an understanding of only about a million concepts.

Re:Twenty questions (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117659)

By the anthropic principle

I don't think that means what you think it means.

Re:Twenty questions (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 6 months ago | (#46117711)

He conjectured that the reason the game isn't "twenty five questions" or any other number is that the data capacity of the human brain is about this much

Huh? Haven't you ever continued the game until the person won? In the car as kids we'd regularly get into the mid-30's with unique questions.

Perhaps I miss your point.

Re:Twenty questions (1)

nsuccorso (41169) | about 6 months ago | (#46118109)

Perhaps I miss your point.

Don't feel bad. He's wearing a hat.

Re:Twenty questions (1)

arvindsg (1757328) | about 6 months ago | (#46117841)

In twenty yes/no questions you can identify one million objects or concepts (2^20 = 1024*1024).

That would be the case if 20 questions were fixed, you also need to also multiply a factor for how many unique set of questions are possible

Re:Twenty questions (0)

Eddi3 (1046882) | about 6 months ago | (#46118145)

Perhaps the game is interesting because our brains hold 2 million concepts..

[citation needed]

how soon before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117603)

Corporations can erase employees' memories in the name of efficiency?

Re:how soon before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117705)

Corporations use this new research to make age discrimination legal?

Sherlock Holmes quote (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117609)

I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.

Re:Sherlock Holmes quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117989)

(continues ...)

Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

"But the Solar System!" I protested.

"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

Re:Sherlock Holmes quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118091)

So, the ones that can really get messed up are the information hoarders?

Re:Sherlock Holmes quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118121)

Hercule Poirot's "little gray cells" were more interesting. Fuck Sherlock Holmes.

secondary essay (1)

tsprig (167046) | about 6 months ago | (#46117641)

... because my massive vernacular forbids me from uttering, "first post."

Re: secondary essay (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117797)

It only seems right that you prove the article right by being slow then.

when I was a kid (2)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | about 6 months ago | (#46117669)

When I was a kid I snapped out fast answers and interrupted everyone because I knew I was right.

I'm coming close to being half a century old, and yes, I do stop and try to dumb things down for my nephews.

My parents were dumb when I was a kid, and now they show me how i might of been a bit less smarter than I thought I was. With age comes wisdom.

Re:when I was a kid (1, Insightful)

Nephandus (2953269) | about 6 months ago | (#46118193)

Then why come the idiots I dealt with in childhood are even dumber than I thought? They never improved with age. You can't fix stupid. You can enshrine it with culture arbitrarily privileging norms and elders though. So many argument on the net result in some elder wanting to know age and trying to pull rank or performing the equivalent of quoting regs. The latter gets a bit less irritating and more amusing when the norms change and their attempt blows up in their face. Just have to hope they don't get that damn antiquated bigot pass.

Re:when I was a kid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118289)

My parents were dumb when I was a kid, and now they show me how i might of been a bit less smarter than I thought I was. With age comes wisdom.

"might have been", not "of".

Re:when I was a kid (1)

chipschap (1444407) | about 6 months ago | (#46118323)

My parents were dumb when I was a kid, and now they show me how i might of been a bit less smarter than I thought I was. With age comes wisdom.

Reminds me of an old Rabbinic saying: Wisdom comes to us when we are too old to use it.

i thought they already knew this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117679)

otherwise known as the kelly bundy effect.

Today, really? (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about 6 months ago | (#46117715)

With all the brainwashes we get from ads, TV, reality shows and political meetings, how could we be "information fuller"?

Correlation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117753)

is not causation.

Obligate fish story... (2)

wherrera (235520) | about 6 months ago | (#46117785)

A story is told about ichthyologist David Scott Jordan. Jordan and a colleague were walking across campus one day when a student asked Dr. Jordan a question, which, upon answering, Jordan asked the student's name. Jordan's colleague asked him why he didn't remember his student's names. Jordan replied, "Every time I remember the name of a student, I forget the name of a fish!"

Re:Obligate fish story... (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 6 months ago | (#46118033)

Obligate fish story...

Wrong but right.

Windows XP Update (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117897)

And this is a big surprise? The brain functions as a large associated mesh. The more memories you have, the more associates you have. By the time your old, what you have is tantamount to a rats nest or a Windows XP Update chain list. The most amazing thing to me isn't that this is all true. What amazing to me is that people rarely lock-up the way computers do when suddenly bogged down with a large network of associations.

If not obvious, I don't mean an infinite loop but merely anything that takes an incredibly long period of time (say, hours) relative to the expected interval (say, a second or two tops). One could argue we have a good watch dog timer or that as one gets older the watch dog timer is less relevant evolutionarily--granny getting forgetful and dying won't matter as much to our genes as one in their procreative years. Or perhaps it's all the on-event threading in our heads that break us out of that stuff? Whatever it is, it wouldn't be a bad thing to model such a thing on computers precisely because the biggest complaint I still have about just about every GUI I've ever used is precisely these lock-ups.

But, then, I'm digressing. I only really tend to because unlike the whole Windows XP Update chain list, there's no way to expunge/consolidate memories in the brain. Or if there is, it's likely a wholly extant biological process that can at best be enhanced by drugs or whatever. To that end, I imagine it's only partially successful. That is, you end up having dangling associations, mis-associations, and generally still way too many associations which even through a reference counting loop (presume that neurons that recently fired are charged or neurotransmitter empty and can't be restimulated for a time) you're still mostly in the same mess. That is, the very nature of the network has bad time complexity which at that point has noticeable negative real time effects. Meanwhile, you can at least rewrite the Windows XP update tool to use a better algorithm for the task.

This story is true but.... (3, Funny)

mendax (114116) | about 6 months ago | (#46117913)

... as I get older I find that I get wiser. But it also fills up with useless information. The next time someone says to me, "You're full of shit," they may be accurate for a change.

It's not a fact, it's a correlation (1)

tgv (254536) | about 6 months ago | (#46117955)

Note that it is not a fact. It's only that some activation model that is sensitive to the number of items in word memory is compatible with slowing down with age. That's interesting, but the paper does not present a working model of human lexical memory, as it basically selects words based on trigrams and some mysterious weight parameter. This does not seem to be compatible with the literature on priming, interference, or multilingualism without heavy modification (which will undoubtedly change the outcome of these simulations). The model also presupposes that you never lose words from memory, which (AFAIK) is not an established fact.

Note that even if this model would be right, it is only for lexical memory, and doesn't necessarily generalize to other memory. Actually, the effect should be different in episodic memory.

importance rating of memory x (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117975)

Not all memories are equal, forgetting(or never bothering to remember) name of "that guy" is one thing, happens to young people just the same. Forgetting name of say your daughter, now this is entirely different thing. Or forgetting what year it is, or where you live... Sure having to shift through more memories is probably a factor, but I doubt it explains away age-related cognitive decline. Now sitting before your TV for years and years, waiting for your pension check, this might make a better explanation. Lets face it, anyone's brain will turn to mush if you barely use it at all and do whole lot of nothing for years and years. Retiring should not mean you stop doing anything with your life. Unfortunately that is exactly how many pensioners take life. Maybe for many people going to work in the morning and coming home in the evening is is the only reason to flex their gray matter? Take that away and there is simply nothing left.

Simple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46117977)

Some scientist need to invent the "clear cache" button for our brains. Problem solved.

Also complexity (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 6 months ago | (#46117999)

Why is the sky blue?
Grade school student - because it is.
High school student - dust.
Undergraduate - Rayleigh scattering
Postgraduate - an answer that spans a few dozen pages.

Oblig. Grampa Simpson (4, Funny)

synaptik (125) | about 6 months ago | (#46118005)

We can't bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell 'em stories that don't go anywhere - like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. Give me five bees for a quarter, you'd say. Now where were we? Oh yeah: the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn't have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones...

Thank you (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118013)

Thank you for your amazing post. http://matio13.com/ [matio13.com]

Scrabble in native vs foreign language (5, Interesting)

kaur (1948056) | about 6 months ago | (#46118147)

I play Scrabble.
Both in my native language (Estonian) and in English.
I am much much MUCH faster in English Scrabble than in Estonian one. I believe the reason to be the same. Picking a word from my limited English vocab is fast. Working through all resources of my native language takes time.
As a result, I can beat most native English speakers in a timed game simply because of my speed, whereas my native Scrabble skills are mediocre at best.

Re:Scrabble in native vs foreign language (1)

hankwang (413283) | about 6 months ago | (#46118175)

"my native Scrabble skills are mediocre at best."

So how do your Estonian scrabble opponents beat you, then?

Re:Scrabble in native vs foreign language (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118691)

In post-Soviet Estonia, Scrabble beats you.

Woo... (1)

Nephandus (2953269) | about 6 months ago | (#46118169)

Glacial intellect here I come. Can I be a "ignorant" teenager again already? For a insomniac cynic, I was way more optimistic and slept far better only knowing what I did then. Wasn't really wrong then either, just less excruciating detail regarding how fucked everything was. Here I thought I'd forget.

Re:Woo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118373)

Remember: only you know you're an insomniac cynic. If you meet a new person tomorrow and behave like an immature teenager (even though you are not one), this new person won't be any wiser to how you're perceived by all your other friends. I seem to have developed custom-tailored behaviour for various individuals. I'm kind and helpful towards some, but a total cunt to others - especially new people that I don't (expect to) need help from. Works a treat agains being friendzoned or asked to help with money. As they say: "Fuck you, I have enough friends" :)

Time to Defrag (1)

Tekoneiric (590239) | about 6 months ago | (#46118223)

Maybe they just need to find a way to delete unwanted or unneeded info then defrag and reindex the brain.

Indexing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118301)

The summary makes it sound like the brain's database needs a better index.

Human OS (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 6 months ago | (#46118401)

I guess it can all be explained if you consider the human brain to be a Windows machine running Access.

The (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 6 months ago | (#46118439)

The post is fine and all, but I wish they would post a story about a study into the age effects on the brain.

In the future (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 6 months ago | (#46118447)

We'll take amnesia pills every 5-6 decades or so.

Reminds me of an old saying (4, Funny)

reboot246 (623534) | about 6 months ago | (#46118459)

I saw this once on a t-shirt:

"I really do know it all.
I just can't remember it all at once."

I'll be 61 in a few weeks, and I don't know it all yet. But I'm close, really close now!

Re:Reminds me of an old saying (2)

tgv (254536) | about 6 months ago | (#46118791)

You know that that idea dates back to Plato, right? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

More Full Of, Not Fuller (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118521)

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fuller

I Love This Discussion (2)

some old guy (674482) | about 6 months ago | (#46118531)

I love to read the little young snerts sounding so clever in their cock-sure certainty that in their Peter Pan worlds they can ridicule and mock those of greater age with impunity.

Guess what, snotty? You are nothing but a geezer in training, awaiting your inevitable turn. The only escape? Premature death.

How's that aging thing working for ya?

An honest answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46118655)

"What shocked me, to be honest.."

So is he saying that most of the time he is *not* honest?
or does that just come with age?

Big O of the brain (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | about 6 months ago | (#46118939)

So from the data collected they should be able to calculate the big-O order of growth of the brain when it searches for words?

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