"Every perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination."
-- Gerald Edelman, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge
7 How important is memory, anyway？9 How important is memory, anyway？How important is memory, anyway？How can we develop transformative tools for thought？2020-10-18Journal
An immense amount of research has been done on the relationship of memory to mastery. Much of this research is detailed and context specific. But at the level of broader conclusions, one especially interesting series of studies was done in the 1970s by Herbert Simon and his collaborators. They studied chess players, and discovered See, e.g., William G. Chase and Herbert A. Simon, Perception in Chess (1973). Some fascinating earlier work in a related vein was done by Adrian D. de Groot, and summarized in his book Thought and Choice in Chess (1965). that when master chess players look at a position in chess they don't see it in terms of the individual pieces, a rook here, a pawn there. Instead, over years of playing and analyzing games the players learn to recognize somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 patterns of chess pieces. These much more elaborate “chunks” are combinations of pieces that the players perceive as a unity, and are able to reason about at a higher level of abstraction than the individual pieces. At least in part it's the ability to recognize and reason about these chunks which made their gameplay so much better than novices. Furthermore, although Simon did this work in the context of chess, subsequent studies have found similar results) in other areas of expertise We've met many mathematicians and physicists who say that one reason they went into mathematics or physics is because they hated the rote memorization common in many subjects, and preferred subjects where it is possible to derive everything from scratch. But in conversation it quickly becomes evident that they have memorized an enormous number of concepts, connections, and facts in their discipline. It's fascinating these people are so blind to the central role memory plays in their own thinking.. It seems plausible, though needs further study, that the mnemonic medium can help speed up the acquisition of such chunks, and so the acquisition of mastery.