The rich gets richer and the poor stays where they are

Rich gets richer and poor stays where they are, it is not about money. It is about knowledge acquisition. Information overload and ease of access to the information means, there is less emphasis on gaining knowledge than how it was used to be during the pre-internet era. While it is easy to do a lookup and find the required information, it may not be true that the comprehension of the new information is easy.

Is it necessary to have factual knowledge at the finger tips when the internet is your friend? In the book “Why students don’t like school”, the author mentions about the limited space in working memory and how knowledge is essential for reading comprehension. It seems the working memory can hold only seven objects and they have to be meaningful objects. A person might either think in terms of words or pictures, but it is not possible for them to relate to unknown terms or words. Even a shallow knowledge of something is very useful for quick comprehension eliminating the need for reference material.

If someone was talking about Large Hadron Collider to me before I knew what a hadron was, then I would have assumed it to be an anti missile device. Just a shallow knowledge of ‘A hadron is an elementary particle’ makes me interpret that to be a particle accelerator. I also need to have a shallow knowledge of what an elementary particle is and what it means to make these particles collide to understand the importance of building such a device. The key concept behind shallow understanding is the ability to chunk information. Chunking allows us to keep more information in our limited working memory space. Chunking is also the basis for lazy evaluation. I don’t need get into details until the point I need to work it, for example I know that antibiotics kill bacteria but how deep I get into what it means depends on whether I am taking that medication and need to be aware of side effects or I am involved in antibiotic research. To understand the sentence that ‘A development of a new class TB antibiotic failed’; my basic knowledge of antibiotics kill bacteria and TB is short form of tuberculosis, a disease caused by bacteria is enough.

Our brain is a very efficient storage device, knowledge is always about retrieval. Our retrieval of information from memory is always dependent on how well did we comprehend, visualize and relate information. Brain is so effective that it records too many parameters associates with memory. For example try smelling a perfume that you have used during school days which you have not used for a long time, may be years. The moment you catch the smell, it can bring vivid memories back which we had no clue that such a memory existed. More information is available about this at Olfaction and Memory. We need to create as many handles as possible to retrieve our assimilated knowledge and that comes only after constant exposure to information, at least at a shallow level to facilitate chunking and visualization resulting in better comprehension.

Our ability to chunk information grows only with knowledge and chunking in turn helps quicker comprehension which in turn increases knowledge. It forms a rewarding cycle, the more we learn, the faster our knowledge begins to grow and we will be able to recollect information better.

Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images /


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