People underrate the importance of memory because of bad experiences with rote memorization in school

Deep understanding requires detailed knowledge of fundamentals, but Many people view memory as unimportant to deep creative work. In many cases, this seems to be an unfortunate casualty of meaningless rote memorization in school: those experiences felt unpleasant and useless, so memory in general must be unpleasant and useless. But when pursued in support of authentic curiosity or meaningful pursuit, memorization can be both rewarding and enabling.

Relatedly, these experiences leave people thinking of memorization as something burdensome, so their sense of where it’s useful to apply is quite narrow. But Deciding to remember something with a spaced repetition system is a lightweight gesture.

See also Educational objectives often subvert themselves for more on the anti-educationalist angle of this note.

Q. What false generalization do many people make from their negative experiences with rote memorization in school?
A. Memory must be unpleasant and unimportant to things that matter.

Q. How do school-age experiences often lead to a general aversion to memorization?
A. Rote memorization in school is often both unpleasant and meaningless.


Matuschak, A., & Nielsen, M. (2019, October 0). How can we develop transformative tools for thought?

So, does all this mean we’re fans of rote memory, the kind of forced memorization common schools? Of course not. What we do believe is that many people’s dislike of rote memorization has led them to a generalized dislike of memory, and consequently to underrate the role it plays in cognition. Memory is, in fact, a central part of cognition. But the right response to this is not immense amounts of dreary rote memorization. Rather, it’s to use good tools and good judgment to memorize what truly matters.