‘Never Memorise What You Can Look Up In A Book’

‘Never Memorise What You Can Look Up In A Book’

We live in a time where you can look up nearly any piece of information right from your computer or phone. This quotation from Albet Einstein is arguably even more relevant today than it was in his time, keeping us productive and on task.

Image remixed from Silver Tiger (Shutterstock).

This isn’t to say that nothing is worth memorising, but in an age where we’re expected to spend every second working, time spent memorising things you’ll rarely use is time wasted (especially if you know your obscure Google tricks). We all have a few choice pieces of information we use daily, so in those cases it’s probably OK to disregard Einstein… just this once.

You can download the quotable image above as a 1280×720 wallpaper here.

I F**king Google Everything [Daniel Wearne]


  • This is the philosophy I’ve taken most of my life. BUT I now regret it.

    How smart you are comes down to how many pieces of info you can juggle in your head and turn into something useful. Every bit of info you have to look up is a bit of info that isn’t simmering away in your brain, ready to make unexpected connections and lead to new insights. I consistently score in the top 1% in IQ tests, but I’m probably only in the top 20% in real life. That’s a huge difference. And it comes down to this: while I’m great at abstract thinking puzzles that don’t require any information to be brought to bear, my knowledge pool — the memorised information that I draw upon — is so shallow that in real life tasks, where I need to think for longer than a few seconds and bring together more than one or two pieces of information, I’m really slowed down.

    Consequently, I am falling behind as I get older. Those who have put more effort into memorising facts are getting wiser even as they lose the youthful edge from their abstract puzzle-solving power. I’m just losing my edge, and I haven’t trained my brain to remember stuff easily.

    • +1

      The key here I think comes from what you memorize.

      Knowing the exact dates of historical events for example is irrelevant nowadays. Knowing that they happened and how they affected history etc is important though in understanding how modern society was shaped.

      Knowing various mathematical proofs is useful for mentally visualising problems. Memorizing the names of the guys that first wrote them down; not so relevant.

      In reality you can look anything up on the internet. The danger is that if you have no base of knowledge to work from you won’t know what to look up, or whether the answer the internet gives is actually true.

      This is a big issue in the education system. We still teach a lot of the pointless facts when we should be teaching for a real understanding of the subject and acknowledging that in the real world we can supplement that understanding with tools like the internet or a calculator.

  • instead of memorizing information, memorize processes.

    you can either remember everything, or remember how to best process everything available to you. just look at IBM’s “Watson”.

    the future prioritizes processing, not storage. this is why connectivity is paramount in this age of information.

  • If you don’t remember things, then the only way you’re going to know that you should be looking up a piece of information is if the situation directly at hand requires it, or if someone else tells you to find it.

    Creative ideas and outside-the-square problem solving generally require one to know a few things before looking them up.

  • For my university closed book exams I have to memorise upwards of 200 case facts and principles.. I agree with the above comments that it’s more important about what you remember. Having sufficient knowledge of a topic is enough to get one through day to day activities. However abstract ideas or very specialized topics need to be looked up. Alternatively if you’re not going to use the information on a regular basis, it’s more than likely that if you memorise it in the first place you will forget it and have to go look it up again.

  • I suppose we should also consider the difference between actively trying to memorise something (especially if its a process) and simply remembering how to do something. Maybe actively memorising is better for those times when you might make a mistake because you have ‘thought’ you remembered how to do something. I.e., avoiding complacency.

  • I honestly think to learn and remember as much useful information as you can is much better than just looking up things when it’s needed.

    The brain is like your muscles, if you don’t exercise it, it will not be as strong or reach it’s full potential. I think that is why they recommend the elderly/retirees to do puzzles, arts, or other hobbies, to keep the mind active.

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