Mailbag: Remembering the books

Regarding “Bubbling through college”:

- - - - and can remember which pages are where. This alludes to something big that goes largely unnoticed, it seems, and about which I have trouble deciding. In my own 1960s-80s educated brain, the *location* of knowledge is deeply tied my access to and retention of it. Clearly with online learning and e-books, this means of structuring knowledge goes away, and nothing in particular replaces it. I've lost this strong tendency myself -- I no longer remember a fact, for example, even by *where on the page* the text was located. But does this matter? Is this "ergonomics" of knowledge essential to all human brains, or is it only a trivial habit developed by a few arbitrary generations in the course of history? Does its loss mean knowledge will be less structured in the future, or merely structured in equally useful but different ways?

I still find myself doing this with PDFs, and I can remember well details of grade-school textbooks this way. But I have no knowledge of how common this may be. It seems to me that we may be exploiting an ancestral “geographic” ability, and it harks back to the “method of loci” which has been a trick for remembering things as far back as Roman times. But how natural is it?

There may be many other kinds of tricks that exploit innate brain abilities that wouldn’t ordinarily be recruited for narrative information.