The Baker/baker Paradox

The Baker/baker paradox goes like this:

A researcher shows two people the same photograph of a face and tells one of them that the guy is a baker and the other that his last name is Baker. A couple of days later, the researcher shows the same two subjects the same photograph and asks for the accompanying word.

The person who was told the man’s profession is much more likely to remember it than the person who was given his surname. Why should that be? Same photograph. Same word. Different amount of remembering.

When you hear that the man in the photo is a baker, that fact gets embedded in a whole network of ideas about what it means to be a baker: He cooks bread, he wears a big white hat, he smells good when he comes home from work.

The name Baker, on the other hand, is tethered only to a memory of the person’s face. That link is tenuous, and should it dissolve, the name will float off irretrievably into the netherworld of lost memories.

When a word feels like it’s stuck on the tip of the tongue, it’s likely because we’re accessing only part of the neural network that “contains” the idea, but not all of it. But when it comes to the man’s profession, there are multiple strings to reel the memory back in.

Tthe art of remembering better in everyday life is about figuring out how to turn capital “B” Bakers into lowercase “b” bakers. It’s about taking information that is lacking in context, lacking in meaning and figuring out a way to transform it so that it makes sense in the light of all the other things that you have floating around in your mind.

Summing-up: We can all take advantage of the Baker/baker paradox. If you want to make something memorable, you first have to make it meaningful.

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