CH1 L9: Supersign and the limited working memory

  1. Supersign [1] is the first cognitive group of information. It’s extremely important to distinguish between things and their supersign in mind. A thing and its supersign are even more different than you and your image in a mirror.
  1. The supersign of the thing [2] lives rather independently. The thing might perish but its supersign would exist in mind; on the other hand, we might totally forget it though it’s still alive.
  2. We saw in the previous post [3] that our brain tagged its evaluation to the supersign which was just emotional. As we move forward, we’ll see how the brain adds more rational and social evaluation to supersigns [4].
  3. While creating a supersign, the brain ignores unimportant details so the outcome won’t be a replica of the thing. To show you the difference, I bet you couldn’t recall how many petals the thing had.
  4. This simple discovery needs to be more explored. Why doesn’t our brain capture every aspect of the thing?
  5. First of all, perception is limited to the sensitivity of our senses. The following picture shows the thermal image of the thing which we can’t capture with naked eyes.
    1. Secondly, based on minergy [5], there’s no reason for you to pay attention to the unnecessary details unless you’re an artist who wants to paint the thing realistically.
    2. Thirdly, we have a limited working memory which I’d like to call the third fundamental limitation after time and energy [6]. So our brain should disregard unimportant details to process the necessary elements in the small workspace.
    3. Our brain has 4 units of working memory [7] which used to be considered 7±2 units (Miller’s number) [8]. So, if you’re thinking about more than four things, your brain is mainly switching them on and off quickly to process them simultaneously which reduces its productivity [9].
    4. The limited capacity brings along short duration (between 10 and 20 seconds) and focuses [10].
    5. Supersign is our brain’s first elegant solution to overcome this limitation and think about more than 4 pieces of information simultaneously.
    6. To experience and feel the brilliance of this achievement, please do the following activity. Watch the following video in which some letters appear on the screen, each for a second, and your task is to memorize then recall them in order.

  1. As you might have noticed, there were 8 letters; so, your brain couldn’t have memorized them if it hadn’t made some connections between them. For example, some pseudo-words such as RUAS and ONID which need two chunks of working memory to be processed.
  2. Now spell it backward. It’s the word DINOSAUR which occupies one unit of working memory to be spelled [11].
  1. When our curious ancestors discovered that there were groups of stars with rather relatively fixed distances, they grouped them and called them constellations so they could record and recall them more easily [12].
  2. To wrap up, let’s call the part of supersign which is perceived the objective and its evaluation the subjective. This distinction also is very important because we’re gonna move from the objective to the subjective in math [13, 14].

Exercise 9:

1. Think about other real-life examples of grouping things to process them more quickly. I’m gonna give you one more example: credit cards.

2. I recommend you to play the game “Einstein’s challenge”. When you start a game, you will see 4 bubbles with numbers inside. Your goal will be to remember their positions. After several seconds numbers will be hidden and you will have to tap these bubbles according to numbers inside them (from lowest to highest). If you succeed, you will go to the next level, with more bubbles. If you make a mistake, next time the numbers of bubbles will be decreased by one. You will have 3 attempts. After the third mistake test will finish and your result will be presented as a percentage of the expected result of Albert Einstein [15]. The technique you can use to beat Einstein [16] is instead of memorizing numbers, you should memorize paths, like in constellations.


3. If you’re a student, try to implement this technique in your studying. Connect the topics to make one meaningful unit.


[1] Link to the previous post where supersign was defined and discussed.

[2] Link to the thing. I recommend you to start from the first post if you’re interested to follow the story.


The thing

[3] Link to the previous post.

[4] We’ll talk about symbols later; however, to give an example rose is considered to be a symbol of love which is just a social concept/meaning.

[5] Minergy is what I proposed to call the tendency to spend minimum energy to get things done. Link

[6] knowing the fundamental limitations are very important for self-awareness. Having unrealistic self-image especially created by the blockbusters such as Lucy [Link] can cause depression. If you think that your brain has unlimited power and drain its energy with thinking about many (useless) things (especially the social media), then you won’t have enough energy for important things and you might conclude that there’s something wrong with you or you’re not as smart as you’re supposed to be. Considering the limitations helps us economically ration our energy and working memory to boost productivity.

[7] Link to Peter Doolittle’s talk about working memory.

[8] Link

[9] Link to Flex your cortex — 7 secrets to turbocharge your brain | Sandra Bond Chapman

[10] Again refer to Peter Doolittle’s talk. Link

[11] I got the activity from “Atkinson & Hilgard, Introduction to psychology” [link].

[12] However, to make them more meaningful they got carried away and not only related them to some natural phenomena but also they started to interpret and to base their decisions on them.

[13] Here subjective and objective are respectively derived from a subject which signifies a being who has a unique consciousness and/or unique personal experiences, or an entity that has a relationship with another entity that exists outside itself (called an “object“). [Link]

[14] Later you’re gonna see that from the beginning, math is totally created in our head though it stems from reality. For example, you can’t find any mathematical line or square in nature. This fact needs to be considered in analyzing why learning math is difficult. Unlike subjects such as geography or science in which we can directly or indirectly perceive things, in math, we need to create them in mind.

[15] Link to the game.

[16] Coincidentally today which is also the pie day, is Einstein’s [Link] birthday and sadly Stephen Hawking dies today [Link].


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