Showing posts from 2009

The Seven Commandments

By Jacqueline Leo How many of the Ten Commandments can the average person name? Almost no one aces this test including respondents in a survey by Kelton Research who were able to name the seven ingredients in a Big Mac, but not recall the commandment, “thou shalt not kill.” Yet the Ten Commandments are the equivalent of a social contract that informs our legal system, our civil behavior, and our love and respect for God. The Commandments are shared by Jews and Christians, but other religious groups subscribe to many of the same principles. So why can’t we name them all? I believe it’s because we can’t hold more than 7 independent objects in short term memory—a proposition that was proved scientifically in 1956 by George Miller, then a professor at Harvard who wrote the seminal paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.” Miller is known as the father of cognitive science, and I often wonder how he would apply his magi

Paying Attention to the Best of Life

In April 2008, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about “The Great Forgetting.” He said that the 21st century will probably be known as the Bad Memory Century. It’s not just aging baby boomers who are suffering from memory lapses and “where did I put my keys?” Teens and twenty-somethings are just as afflicted as they confront endless streams of data, information, music, entertainment and chitchat through their ever-expanding warehouse of digital tools. It’s gotten so bad that the dean of the University of Chicago Law School turned off access to the Internet in his classrooms. In an email to his students, Dean Saul Levmore said, “We have a growing problem in the form of distractions presented by Internet surfing in the classroom.” He warned that “class has come to consist of some listening but also plenty of emailing, shopping, news browsing and gossip-site visiting.” It’s no wonder that a new academic discipline has begun to emerge at some of the most elite business scho