No, Google Is Not Rewiring How We Remember

from the let-it-go dept

There are a bunch of reports out concerning a new study claiming that Google is rewiring how we remember. It sounds good, but it's not really what the study appears to be saying. Basically, the study is saying that we just don't work as hard at remembering stuff we know we can access again easily. But I don't see that as rewiring. I think that's always been true. It's the same thing as people not remembering their multiplication tables as carefully, because they know they have a calculator. If anything, it just seems like an efficient use of your brain. The report also notes that people have an easier time remembering where to find certain info than they do remembering the info itself. But, again, that's just our brains being efficient. So I don't see how that's rewiring anything. It's just a recognition that, thanks to the internet and other technologies, we can have near ubiquitous access to certain kinds of info, and we function better by remembering how to find it, rather than the info itself. In fact, we've discussed this before, about how people quite reasonably use things like Google as their backup brain and how that actually has some benefits.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 10:11pm

    “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?” - Albert Einstein

    "I don't need to remember my own phone number, I can just look it up in the phone book." - Albert Einstein

     

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  2.  
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    BearGriz72 (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 10:17pm

    Backup Brain?

    I want a spare brain

     

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  3.  
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    BearGriz72 (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 10:17pm

    Backup Brain?

    I want a spare brain

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    BearGriz72 (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 10:20pm

    Comment Held for Moderation...

    "Thanks for your comment. It will be reviewed by our staff before it is posted."

    What did I do this time? ;-)

     

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  5.  
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    NAMELESS.ONE, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 10:24pm

    as i said

    if i now link in my mind various technological uses then i can in fact "save memory and time" thus my actually capacity to learn and do more is increased.LIKE um here hackers learned this concept long ago....IF its already there and i can use it why commit somehting to memory , just use a link.

    linking is infringing will be a good topic now won't it. WHAT ya gonna do rip my brains apart.

     

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  6.  
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    Greevar (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 11:15pm

    I call bullshit.

    This study is full of faulty methods and reasoning. We best retain information our brains deem most important. Where and how we find information is important, more so than the information itself. Trivia is called such because it's trivial (i.e. not important). The brain puts a low priority on that information. I bet you apples to doughnuts that if you tested how well they retain the memory of where that information came from or the method by which it was discovered, it would reveal that they would almost all remember.

    If I asked you how many nations have a predominantly red flag, before the internet existed your first instinct would be to think "Do I know that?". Your next move would be to, guess what, search for reference (e.g. encyclopedias). When asked for information you don't have, your first instinct is always to seek out reference. You search the net, look it up in a book, ask someone, one of these things will get you your answer and it's more effective than memorizing all those bits of information yourself. This is not new or unique to the internet age.

     

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  7.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 11:16pm

    typo

    people have an easier time remembering where

     

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  8.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 11:22pm

    I long ago figured out that the difference between someone good with tech and a guru was that while both may know a lot about tech, the guru knows where to find the answers to things he doesn't know. I'd think this would apply equally well to any job where knowledge and quick access to it are valuable.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 11:27pm

    Re: typo

    Looks fine to me?

    remember re·mem·ber (rĭ-měm'bər)
    v. re·mem·bered , re·mem·ber·ing , re·mem·bers

     

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  10.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 11:34pm

    Re: Re: typo

    It was remember rather than remembering before.

     

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  11.  
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    Liam (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:03am

    Re: Re: Re: typo

    So you edited your post when it was fixed?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:03am

    Its just a semantical issue. Your brain works by rewiring itself. Thus, if it works differently, it wires itself differently. If it becomes better at remembering where information is stored than it is at remembering information itself, then it becomes wired differently than it was before. Don't get upset by the use of the word 'rewire'.

    If you use google as your backup brain then your brain has been rewired to use a backup unit. Seriously, is this tricky somehow?

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Lazy, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:06am

    backup brain

    So if people are using the net/Google to back up their brain, what happens when the references crash? When your library card is revoked?

    It's also much easier to rifle through someone's external brain than it is their bio-brain (which involves some nasty saws and glinty sharp objects).

    [Please, PLEASE don't anyone link to the Marathon Man dentist scene. Please. I beg you.]

     

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  14.  
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    kyle clements (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:10am

    disconnected from the source

    I think I might be just young enough that remembering a source rather than a detail has always seemed normal to me.

    I've had older people criticise my outsourcing of memory and calculation abilities to electronic devices. They often say, "What if you are cut off from the internet? Then what will you do? What if your phone is dead? These are basic skills that everyone should have-just in case you find myself without your fancy toys"

    I respond by asking them if they know how to start a fire by rubbing sticks together, or if they can make a spear head by banging rocks, or if they know how to chase down and hunt animals using hand tools. "No? but these are skills everyone should have, just in case you find yourself without your fancy toys!"

    Why do people only take issue with how brand new technology affects us?

    to paraphrase a quote from Douglas Adams:
    Everything invented before you were born is normal. Everything invented before you are 30 is new and exciting.
    Everything invented after you are 30 is unnatural and scary.

     

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  15.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:16am

    Re: Comment Held for Moderation...

    Short comment containing a link

     

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  16.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:29am

    We Are All Doomed—Yet Again

    "If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows."

    — Plato, on the evils of being able to read and write, around 370BC

     

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  17.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: typo

    or just posted the correction in the first place.

    given that there's no edit function.

     

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  18.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:49am

    Re:

    this is either brilliantly correct or absolute rubbish, depending on exactly what you're trying to do with it.

    which is annoying, because i want to hit insightful but also realise it can be read in such a way as to make that the opposite of what i want to do :S

     

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  19.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:52am

    Re: backup brain

    true. which is why the re-he-he-he-heally important stuff is either memorised in the primary as well or never backed up in the first place, depending on what it is.

    i seem to remember a book or article or something about how humans were 'always already cyborgs'. (seriously, even just throwing a rock rather than punching something can count if you look at it from the right direction) this is just another example of that :D

     

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  20.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:57am

    Re: disconnected from the source

    humm. likewise, i think.

    though actually remembering Some of that stuff is still worth it. i mean, i can't do anything but really basic addition in my head anymore, but give me a pencil and paper and i can do a lot more.

    anything other than long division that's complex enough to need a calculator i'd probably have to look up the equations for as well at this point, mind you.

    *ponders* wonder what the computer analog for that is? ... maybe that trick where part of the harddrive is used as temporary RAM or something?

    i've never, Ever been good at memorising stuff (so bad at spelling, and not that great at typing, until i started haning out in a chat room with 20-30 people where the text disappeared off the screen very quickly ... ended up learning to spell a lot better by memorising key patterns. turned it into muscle memory rather than memorised 'this is how you spell this word'. seems to work better.)

    ok... rambled badly. i had a point when i started, i'm sure.

     

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  21.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 1:58am

    Re: We Are All Doomed—Yet Again

    ayup. always have been from the moment a dude decided pointy sticks were useful.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 2:07am

    Google search no longer has power over me.

    I use DuckDuckGo.com

    And before you start attacking, try it. Also read their informative privacy section.

    Google is just a backup search engine for me now.

     

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  23.  
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    indieThing (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 2:28am

    Tech definitely has an effect

    There is definitely something here. Before the days of mobile phones, I used to keep all my 'active' phone numbers in my head, I could recall 30-40 at the drop of a hat.

    Now, since I've been using mobiles, I find it harder to remember bits of information like phone numbers.

    The same goes for my programming skills, I used to keep algorithms, code snippets in my head, but now look them up on the internet when necessary.

    Tech has definitely made me mentally lazy.

     

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  24.  
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    Liam (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 3:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: typo

    that does make a lot more sense.

     

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  25.  
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    NIcedoggy, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 3:24am

    Well it does rewire the brain, we adapt to certain environments, but I wouldn't say that it is adapting for the worst, it is doing things differently, but it may be too soon to judge any of it.

    The one thing I do know is that anything you don't use frequently your body will discard and not waste resources on it anymore, so if people don't remember everything maybe is because they don't need that knowledge but they still have to cache the location of that knowledge I don't see how that is going to become something bad since basically what you are doing is storing a different type of data not stopping the use of your brain or anything like that.

     

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  26.  
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    Eric Reasons (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 4:33am

    Re: We Are All Doomed—Yet Again

    Every time I see this particular technopanic (and sadly, I we see it a lot, don't we?) I invoke _Phaedrus_.

    It's wonderful reminder that people were overreacting to technology as far back as 2300 years ago.

     

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  27.  
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    Eric Reasons (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 4:34am

    Re: Tech definitely has an effect

    Getting old? :-)

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 4:50am

    Re:

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity"
    — Abraham Lincoln

     

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  29.  
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    freak (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 5:38am

    Re: disconnected from the source

    "I respond by asking them if they know how to start a fire by rubbing sticks together, or if they can make a spear head by banging rocks, or if they know how to chase down and hunt animals using hand tools. "No? but these are skills everyone should have, just in case you find yourself without your fancy toys!""

    I have a lot more fun with this. I grew up in a very small community where my family were the only people under 60. That's no longer true, families are starting to move back there, but I digress.

    I know how to make a stone spear, and hunt animals, and how to make and fire my own bow, and a bunch of other crap.

    "Don't you know how to . . . just in case you lose your fancy tools?" "No? Okay, I'll teach you!"

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 5:54am

    Re:

    Google search no longer has power over me.

    You have declared yourself biased and unreasonable, nothing else you say can be trusted.

     

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  31.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 6:49am

    Re: I call bullshit.

    Agree. As soon as I saw this on Ars, I said the same thing. Just another headline grabbing article about the evils of technology when the data doesn't support the conclusion.

    The report also notes that people have an easier time remembering where to find certain info than they do remembering the info itself.

    I remember going through school - mostly before the Internet. The way I studied then, and still remember things now is no different. Someone asks me a question, the first thing I think of is where the information is, whether its the page of a textbook or a webpage. I then visualize the page, and have the answer.

    Sure I'll use Google (or search my email archive, or open the webpage or document) to confirm I'm correct. And sure, I'll search Google for new information I don't already have.

    If the last 300 years of modern science hasn't rewired our prehistoric-evolved brains, then the last 15 years of the Internet sure as hell has not.

     

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  32.  
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    The eejit (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re:

    IT's perfectly insightful - Google cannot hack your brain into rewiring itself. That's your brain's job.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 6:54am

    I had a long talk in the 90s with my highschool teachers about the fact that I had google in my pocket back then. Why in hell should I know route memorization of words when I can look up an odd word on the spot.

    Today I had to deal with some cutco salesman lies, I could quickly pull a long list of well reasoned arguments as to why cutco was a crappy company in under a min. The only thing I needed to know before that was that cutco = scam.

    Teach me where to find the information, don't teach me how to memorize it, I wont memorize anything I find is useless.

     

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  34.  
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    Ralphoo (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 8:00am

    Re: Backup Brain?

    My requirement is not so much for a spare as for an immediate swap-out.

     

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  35.  
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    Ralphoo (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 8:03am

    It is a rewiring, but a useful one

    The brain gets "rewired" all the time. In this case, a technology change has a potentially major impact on how we work with information. But this happens all the time in our civilization. Ever heard of books? They can store a lot of information too, things we no longer need to memorize.

     

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  36.  
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    GunSheep (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 8:35am

    Re:

    After locating a solution to a obscure tech problem at work the new tech asked me how I found it. So I showed him the Google query I used...with the comment that in this business you are only as good as your last Google query....

     

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  37.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re:

    "LOL, ROFL, added U to my FB" -- Attila the Hun

     

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  38.  
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    BongoBern (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 8:51am

    Remembering and looking up

    It was always easier to ask "how do you spell..." instead of looking it up in the dictionary. I remembered if I had to look it up, not so much if I was told. I used to be a good speller until spell check came along, now not so much. In fact spell check often changes a word I don't want it to change and I DON'T notice! Now that's bag.

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 8:56am

    I agree. Some people (like myself) do heavy mathematical work. By using a calculator I can focus on bigger stuff instead of mere multiplication tables hindering my work. After all, the "we use only 10% of our brain" myth has been debunked. We have to allocate our memory with things that are relevant.

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 9:00am

    I remember reading a story here on Techdirt about a child prodigy who memorized four hundred digits of pi. It struck me as a very silly thing to do, since I could just type "!wa pi" into my address bar and hit the "more digits" button a few times to get the same result.

     

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  41.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 11:24am

    Google rewiring brains

    Great article, good analysis.
    I will argue that this is a very good thing. When I was younger, even through my 30's, I had so many things on my mind that I seldom had time to think of new things (same thing as the so-called "absent-minded professor", who has to clear his/her mind of trivia to deal with important issues; I wasn't good at doing that).
    With Google et al, many of these things are now less intrusive, and I see it in a more productive mind, speaking for myself.

     

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  42.  
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    Greevar (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 7:37pm

    Re: backup brain

    Well, you're putting a hefty heuristic demand on your brain to remember all that extraneous information that could be spent on other more important tasks. There is nothing that is lost that can't be found again, if it's necessary.

     

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  43.  
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    Greevar (profile), Jul 20th, 2011 @ 7:41pm

    Re: disconnected from the source

    A good point. No matter how far you click your tongue at technology, you'll find yourself having to relearn how to do without if it suddenly becomes lost.

     

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  44.  
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    mirradric, Jul 20th, 2011 @ 10:34pm

    Re: Re: Backup Brain?

    I'll rather have live migration support and a spare body so that I can change everything all at once.

     

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  45.  
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    bdhoro (profile), Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 3:54pm

    Its called using tools

    This is almost like that writing has rewired people's memories because now they can write stuff down and don't have to remember it every time, they can read it. WTF

     

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  46.  
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    Ralphoo (profile), Jul 23rd, 2011 @ 7:51am

    Using tools does rewire

    I agree, bdhoro, and I agree that writing things down does "rewire" the brain in some sense. So does having an axe to chop wood instead of just breaking up dry sticks with your bare hands. Or fixing up a goat bladder to carry around some water instead of having to slurp it up from a lake or stream. In those respects, I would say our brains are rewired beyond recognition by comparison with our hunter-gatherer relatives, but that's just the way being human has worked out. We get rewired shockingly often, and more so every week.

     

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