I love to memorize things.
Ever since second grade, when my dad helped me learn all 50 state capitals, I’ve felt strangely powerful when I manage to master a new body of knowledge.
Sure, maybe I’ll never use it, but there’s something about having all that information, tucked away in the filing cabinet of your mind, that makes everyday life and all its challenges feel just a little bit easier.
The Periodic Table of Elements? I’ve got them all down pat—that’s 118 elements, everything from hydrogen to oganesson. Easy peasy.
The U.S. presidents, in order? No problem. I learned those bad boys back in sixth grade as part of a school project (though I admit that I had to give myself a bit of a refresher this past year—I’d gotten a little hazy about the order of the presidents around about the Warren Gamaliel Harding era).
The names of the Greek gods and goddesses and what they ruled over? Got ’em. And having all those names squirreled away in my brain helps with lots of things, from catching obscure literary references to understanding vocabulary words (like geriatric, from Geras, the name of the god of old age).
My boyfriend one asked me why I bother learning all this stuff—and not just learning it, but committing it to memory.
All I could think to reply at the time was: “to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.”
But there’s more to my love of learning than a desire to keep my brain sharp.
Knowing a little bit of this and a little bit of that makes me feel like I’m “in on” the joke—whatever the joke might be. I’m part of the great whole of the world’s civilization and I have at least a passing knowledge of most major historic, literary, religious, and scientific trends.
I read a lot these days about how schools no longer require kids to memorize things, saying children don’t learn well through memorization and that (thanks to the Internet) they can easily look up any information they might need (I guess schools now believe you don’t have to know things at all if you happen to be in a place that lacks Wi-Fi …).
To me, that’s just sad. It actually pains me a little to know that so many children will miss out on the pure joy of being able to announce at a moment’s notice what the 66th element on the Periodic Table is (it’s dysprosium, in case you’re not a geek like me).
It also makes me wonder if NOT memorizing stuff is partly to blame for why so many of the children I meet today seem to be so far behind in terms of basic knowledge. (Of course, their stupidity COULD be because they pretty much do nothing but play games on their iPhones.)
The point is, memorization isn’t just a pleasurable way to pass the time (much more fun than playing a video game on an iPhone). It’s also a way to build the base I need to develop deeper knowledge about the subjects I find interesting or useful. And I often do.
Memorization isn’t an end in and of itself, but, for me at least, it’s the perfect way to embark on broader—and much more profound—studies.
And what’s wrong with that?