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Short Term Memory and The Power of Limited Thinking

Article:  The Power of Limited Thinking

Author:  Bruce Bower

Source:  Science News, Vol. 152, No. 21 (Nov. 22, 1997), pages 334-335.

Published by: Society for Science & the Public.

Stable URL:

My copy was downloaded on October 9, 2014.



My Precis

In the real world, small samples of information that fit with and within information we already possess, seem to give us the best chance of making accurate decisions.



My Precis Expanded (a summary of the original article):

As a newborn infant, we immediately begin to affect regular habits in order to survive. Learning to recognize action and reaction, movement and sound, helps us to quickly and consistently learn. As we begin to recognize meaning in a statement we begin to combine statements where one makes the other true. How obvious a statement is will depend on education and background.

Our short-term memories hold only a very limited number of “pieces” of information at one time, usually no more than six or eight. So, when a variable changes (when something happens), it amplifies the constants (and our understanding) of the world. Positively correlated events and a limited short-term working memory work together to help us to learn, especially when we are children and learning a first (native) language. An ability to detect positive correlations may help us to detect irregularities, even if we sometimes detect false correlations or set off false alarms.

In studies, inaccurate assumptions or perceptions interfere with our ability to connect events that really do go together and even scientists can overestimate significant relationships when they are dealing with small representative groups. There is a gamblers fallacy that states that a run of something (good or bad) will correct itself and that the odds will eventually even up. However, any random sequence, with the same variables, has an equal chance of being repeated. The ability to recognize positive correlations rises as working memory capacity declines. One study selected groups on the basis of their working memory capacity and found that the high capacity group chose the fewest false correlations but also the fewest positive correlations.

When looking at real world situations, small samples seem to allow us the best chance to make an accurately correlated decision based on available information and findings in studies show that limited knowledge can aid us in reaching decisions in uncertain circumstances. That built-in ‘amplifier’ locating positive correlations that seems to help infants to put together speech sounds and learn language suggests that the adult mind is designed to locate positive correlations and filter out the background noise.



I found the original article through a journal search using JSTOR. This one was a bit tricky to find. My copy came from here:


JSTOR is in the process of ‘freeing up’ some of their journals so that we can borrow the older articles to read. I am hoping that this might soon be one of those journals….. If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.

The Re-Making of History…

I want to explain this precis a little bit before you read it.  I have struggled with this one.  The article is the story of an archaeological site that became a museum.  It is only one of a multitude of post-WWII stories.

At Toro, it wasn’t actually history that was reworked, it was pre-history.  What was done was to rediscover a people that had been there 2,000 years before and to give the people of post-WWII something to work towards and to live for.

There was a conscious decision made, to either rewrite or abandon certain aspects of history and prehistory and to take only the positive and politically correct bits of Toro’s prehistory and fold them into a past that could bring Japan together as a community. The true story of the Yayoi people of Toro is not in this article nor is it likely to be found in the museum at Toro. The true story of Toro may not ever be found as the site was completely excavated and used to help bring together the broken pieces of a post-WWII society. It was one of many ways chosen to reestablish a place in the world for Japan and the Japanese after World War II.

I have tried very hard not to put my thoughts into the writing of this summary.  Thoughts formed from this story belong in the discussion.  Whether you agree or disagree with my thoughts, my writing, or the writing of Walter Edwards, I welcome your comments…


Article:  Buried Discourse: The Toro Archaeological Site and Japanese National Identity in the Early Postwar Period.

Author:  Walter Edwards

Source:  Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol 17, No. 1 (Winter, 1991), pages 1-23.

My copy was downloaded on March 27, 2014.


My Precis

The reworking of history is not a new idea, it is an idea that works. Using only the most acceptable and positive aspects of tradition and culture, the history found at the archaeological site of Toro was reworked to give a sense of hope and belonging to the devastated people of postwar Japan.


My Precis Expanded:

In July of 1947 archaeologists and supporters gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony at the Toro archaeological site. The end of WWII had taken a toll on the people of Japan. Her Emperor had lost the status of an immortal God and the country had been devastated. The excavation at Toro was seen as a way of bringing the people together as a community with a new found sense of history, belonging and community.

During WWII, the Toro site was a paddy field designated to be the site of a proposed propeller factory.  An excavation of fill to raise and level the building site uncovered pottery, wooden stakes and utensils. These were taken to a nearby school where the educational value was recognized and work began to turn the site away from industrial use. In August of 1943, an emergency excavation uncovered a Yayoi agricultural settlement complete with buildings and an irrigation system. Then, in June of 1945, the unfinished propeller factory and the surrounding area were razed by an incendiary bombing strike. Most of the excavated finds were lost in the fires.

After the war, the archaeologists were ready to go back and salvage what was left.  In the fall of 1946, a committee of scholars, professionals, and specialists, for the investigation of the Toro site was formed, a plan was put together, permissions were granted and work began in July of 1947. With shortages of everything, including food and money, volunteer students uncovered eight thatched roof dwellings. Wood, especially cedar, was found to be the most common material used for everyday items. Plates, bowls, spoons, fire starting kits, chairs, and sandals were found. Agricultural tools such as hoes and rakes were made of hard woods. Iron, for blades for carving knives and other implements, appeared to have been plentiful but the acidic, wet soil conditions left no traces of metal.

With the finds at Toro in hand, the head archaeologist painted a picture of a peaceful and prosperous village site. Newspaper articles kept the people of Japan appraised of the progress and letters from well-wishers were an inspiration to the volunteers. At the end of the first summer, the government pledged its support for the following years and an exhibition was opened at the Tokyo National Museum. Four years of excavation and 4.5 million yen saw the entire site excavated, preserved, and sections rebuilt and formed into a park.

Literature, folk tales and sociology had been starting to combine in pre-war Japan and the foundation of change had begun. The committee that was in charge of the excavation of Toro was also in charge of a site of unification of Japanese historic culture. Toro and the professional development of its history were providing material proof of an unknown cultural history.

Japan of the Yayoi was characterized as being similar to modern Japan. The rice paddies were neat, the dykes carefully built, the tools similar to those in common use just a few decades ago. This agricultural ethic fundamentally supported the emperor system while the Emperor was busy turning public eyes away from government and towards the remaking of history. In a nation caught up in all-encompassing western reform, the idea of a history of uniqueness was something to hold onto while everything changed. The idea was simply to take only the positive history that could help bring the people of Japan together and give it to them to use.

These were times of crisis and this was medicine that had worked before, in other times, for other cultures. Post-war Japan was glossing over its militaristic history and equipping the new “culture” with hoes, spades, and a peaceful and prosperous past. The logic used to turn Japan from a warring nation to a peaceful one was the logic of “community.”

The swing from a defeated nation to strong economic success and national identity was not accomplished by any one person, group or project alone. It was the effort of an entire community with strong leadership from the government to the educators. Even though history was reworked using only images that were of an acceptable form, the Japanese have never truly abandoned the rest of their heritage and have held onto their sense of national identity. What happened at Toro was that a nation came together as a community to remake their history and to press “an aspect” of tradition into service. This service would change the direction of the cultural identity of Japan.


I found the original article through a journal search using JSTOR. You can find the full article here in a “read online” format:

If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.


What is a Precis?

A Precis is a form of summary that is most often used to summarize works of non-fiction and speeches.  A precis is original writing.  It does not contain any of the precis author’s own thoughts but rather, summarizes someone else’s writing using the precis author’s own words.  There is no (or very little) quoting.

A precis is not the precis writer’s ideas about the original work.  Those thoughts and ideas belong in discussion, later.  A precis should be written in as precise a manner as possible.  A precis is the basic thesis of the original work, less the details, summarized.


How to Write A Precis

I find that starting with something I am unfamiliar with is easier.  I can concentrate more on what the author is saying and less on whether or not I agree with what the author is saying.

So, find a piece of non-fiction writing.  Start at the beginning with the first paragraph, what is the author telling you?  Summarize this paragraph into about one sentence.  Go to the next paragraph….

If you are writing a precise on an article — peer-reviewed, newspaper, blog, etc. — or speech, the writing that you are summarizing probably doesn’t have many paragraphs.  A book just takes longer!


When you have summarized each paragraph, combine your writing by combining the sentences into a paragraph or, several paragraphs, and edit!

When you have a paragraph or paragraphs that make sense, repeat the process.  Again, summarize your writing into one or more sentences.  Go back to making paragraph(s) and repeat until you have only a clear and concise summary remaining.  It may be as little as a single sentence or your summary may require a few paragraphs.  This is your precis.


Clear and concise is the most important part of this process.  Eliminate all repetition and unnecessary words (but not until you have it all in your original set of sentences).  You need to understand and summarize everything from the original writing!

Following through the process can surprise you.  Preconceived ideas about what the unsummarized writing is about, may disappear when we have thoroughly read and understood what was written…..

The Most Complete Titanosaur ever Discovered….

Sometimes it is simply the size of some of nature’s creatures leaves me in awe…  And, it was still growing!  Wow!

Lacovara, K.J., Lamanna, M.C., Ibiricu, L.M., Poole, J.C., Schroeter, E.R., Ullmann, P.V., Voegele, K.K., Boles, Z.M., Carter, A.M., Fowler, E.K., Egerton, V.M., Moyer, A.E., Coughenour, C.L., Schein, J.P., Harris, J.D., Martinez, R.D., & Novas, F.E.  2014. A Gigantic, Exceptionally Complete Titanosaurian Sauropod Dinosaur from Southern Patagonia, Argentina. Scientific Reports 4 (6196).

My Precis

The 2/3’s complete skeleton of a titanosaur, Dreadnoughtus schrani, found recently in Argentina, would have been approximately 26m in length and weighed 593 metric tons and, may have still been growing when it died.

My Precis Expanded

Not much is known or understood about titanosaurs, the largest of the dinosaurs, as the only skeletons that have been found have been fragmentary, frustrating attempts to estimate size and other characteristics but the recent discovery of a titanosaur in Argentina has given scientists an almost 2/3’s complete and extremely well preserved skeleton to work with. This is the most complete titanosaur ever found and was given the name Dreadnoughtus schrani; Dreadnought from Old English, meaning ‘fearing nothing’. Schrani, honouring Adam Schran for his support of this research.

When the skeleton of Dreadnoughtus was compared to the skeletons of other titanosaurs, differences in the shapes and sizes of the bones were found that make Dreadnoughtus unique. This is one of the largest of these giants with an estimated length of 26m and a weight of 593 metric tons. Examinations of the bones have revealed that even at this size, this titanosaur may still have been growing!

I found the original article here:

If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.

The Discovery of an Element – Argon

I can only imagine the excitement of discovering something so unique as  a new gas and there seemed to be much enthusiasm in this lecture.  To come to the realization that the discovery might be an element, well…. I think that it is a good thing that Lord Rayleigh decided to continue upon his rather “unacceptable” career as a scientist.

This is a lecture filled with unfamiliar words and details.  If I have anything wrong, please let me know.  I look forward to hearing from you!


The Article

Rayleigh, Lord. 1895. Argon. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol. 1, No. 26 (Jun. 28, 1895), 701-712.


My Precis

Using scientific methods of derivation and measurement, evidence of a new gas and possibly a new element called  “Argon” has been found.


My Precis Expanded

More than 50 years ago the French scientist, Regnault, introduced scientific methods of weighing gases and using these methods weights were obtained for nitrogens derived in two different manners.  It was found that the results varied even after the tests were repeated. We explored this discrepancy, rather than erasing its existence, by repeating the experiments of deriving nitrogen through both atmospheric and chemical means. The methods gave consistently different weights and quality and further testing proved that the new, lighter gas was not a mixture of gases or impure but pure nitrogen and the heavier ingredient we had isolated was given the name “Argon.”

The spectrum of argon obtained from the oxygen and chemical methods are the same and the density has been found to be between 19.9 and 19.7 with a ratio of specific heats of 1.65. The theoretical limit of specific heats is 1.67 and ordinary gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc., have numbers around 1.4. Therefore the density of argon places it into a type of gas known as monatomic.

This evidence strongly suggests that Argon is an element.


I found the original article here and downloaded my copy on September 5, 2014:

This article is more easily available using this link.  If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.

Exploration Before Population – A Precis on a Hospital Microbiome Study Planning Session

I heard about the microbiome study and did a quick search, printed something out (these aren’t always easy to find) and added the article to my reading pile.  I don’t read at the computer.  I find that it is kind of like trying to read the writing on a light bulb – while the bulb is turned on….  My screen is turned down quite a bit but, that just delays the reading fatigue.  Hmmm…. maybe there is an article on this?

Anyways, the paper I printed turned out to be the minutes of a meeting on the planning of the hospital microbiome project at the University of Chicago Medical Center.  It is an interesting read!


The Article:

Smith, D., Alverdy, J., An, G., Coleman, M., Garcia-Houchins, S., Green, J., Keegan, K., Kelley, S.T., Kirkup, B.C., Kociolek, L., Levin, H., Landon, E., Olsiewski, P., Knight, R., Siegel, J., Weber, S., and Gilbert, J.  2013.  The Hospital Microbiome Project:  Meeting Report for the 1st Hospital Microbiome Project Workshop on Sampling Design and Building Science Measurements, Chicago, USA, June 7th-8th 2012.  Standards in Genomic Sciences  8(1), 112-117.  Published Online Apr 15, 2013.  doi:  10.4056/sigs.3717348


My Precis

This is a planning discussion for a study that will sample the environment of a hospital and its occupants, beginning before construction is complete to look at how hospital acquired infections are contracted and transmitted.


My Precis Expanded:

A lack of research into how hospital acquired infections are acquired and transmitted has prompted an investigation in a new hospital pavilion with the research scheduled to begin before the pavilion opens. When the building opens the building itself will then be exposed to health care workers, patients and visitors. This paper discusses how a systematic exploration, beginning with the architectural design and maintenance of the building and utilities could be used to track the progress of microbial community succession.

The planning meeting of this long-term research project included discussion on the architectural design and maintenance of the building and utilities as well as the materials and processes used and to be used. It was decided that two rooms were to be sampled daily and another 18 rooms on a weekly schedule and that the schedule would include the collecting of any “samples of interest.” The current tracking of staff between rooms and staff self-tracking in their usage of items such as glove boxes was added to the sampling schedules.

Another meeting will be held after the project has begun.



I found the original article here:

If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.


There is a wonderful website here:


A (Non-Earth Shattering) Precis on Ancient Rice Agriculture

I have a favourite subject at school, archaeology.  I don’t see the digging up of artifacts as a means to an end and by this I mean:  identify, catalogue, store or display, move on….  I do mean that I believe we can combine the knowledge we gain about what was happening a million years ago, a thousand years ago, yesterday — and use our insights to discover who we are today and where we are going.

I have written a precis.  I write very short summaries when I am doing research papers for the classes I take at the local polytechnic. This one was partially written as I studied for a final exam.  I have finished it to place it here.


Anping, P., 1998. Notes on New Advancements and Revelations in the Agricultural Archaeology of Early Rice Domestication in the Dongting Lake Region. Antiquity 72, 878-885.


My Precis

Ancient grains of rice found in Liyang Plain archaeological sites reveal to us that rice agriculture may have developed quickly in this region and concurrently with other, nearby sites.


My Precis Expanded:

The Liyang Plain lies to the north of Dongting Lake and includes the Li River and the associated lake and tributary system. The area has abundant rainfall and sunshine which result in favourable geographical and environmental conditions for humans and agriculture.

The archaeological site of Pengtoushan was uncovered in 1988 and Bashidang was discovered soon after. Six excavations in the Bashidang have revealed Neolithic sites that yielded rice kernels as well as other plant and animal remains. Prof. Zhang Wenru of the Chinese Agricultural University was invited to do a preliminary assessment of the Bashidang rice and three major characteristics of the Bashidang rice as a ‘small grain ancient rice’ were identified.

Findings in these sites show that the population dates from early Paleolithic until Neolithic periods with domesticated and wild rice remains dating to 10,000 B.P. Rice culture developed here very quickly, possibly with the aid of good environmental and climate conditions that encouraged population growth in the area.


I found the original article here:

If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.


Please leave a comment.  Whether you agree or disagree with what I have understood from this article, your thoughts are of interest to me.  All published articles are, or should be, available to everyone.  Sometimes it takes a bit of effort…


Précis Writing

This morning I have come to the conclusion that my writing, my essays and term papers, are a series of précis.  The subject of this paper is the looting of archaeological sites.  At about 3,000 words it is not as long as an average book chapter, however, it divides easily into sections.  There are four examples, each very different from one another, that cover the related topics of looting, conservation, and education.  The discussion brings the examples together and talks about who is doing what.  The conclusion looks at the who and the what and I make a suggestion.

It is a pretty normal paper but, I think that maybe it could be a bit more….  I hand it in this afternoon.  I am, and this is not normal for me, already looking forward to receiving it back!


I have a habit, when writing papers, of opening the file and immediately re-saving it using a consecutive numbering system.  For this paper my files were labeled  with the name of the paper and the numbers 1 through 10.  Shorter papers may only have 3 or 4 revision numbers.  These are not really revisions though, they are simply a growing work.  Baby steps that take me towards a finished product.  Each step adds a few paragraphs or even pages.  These will be rearranged and sometimes dropped as unnecessary or redundant.  The final step before editing will be to add in transitional paragraphs.


Kierkegaard began Fear and Trembling with the story of Abraham on the Mount.  The first chapter of this book is taken from the Bible.  Word for word.  The second chapter almost repeats the first chapter, there are only a few changes and they are not easy to spot.  When I read this book the first time I thought the publisher had made a mistake and printed the first chapter twice.  No, it was not a mistake!  In the third chapter the retelling of Abraham’s story becomes much more noticeable.

If you have not read Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard I recommend it.  The book is not a long one, however, it is memorable.


Translations of a translation.  This morning I am pondering a project that I thought of a while ago.  Kierkegaard did not use a translation to get his points across.  He rewrote the story to make it clear to his readers what the story was about.

I am not Kierkegaard.  (There are friends of mine just let out several deep sighs….)  My thoughts, my project, is to take a work of old or middle English and to translate it.  Then to translate my translation, and again….

What to choose?  Where I could I take it?

There are so many tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  Many written in old and middle English.  Chaucer is in there, and Mallory.  I need to think about this.  I could just choose a small piece of writing to work with – definitely more approachable than an entire work.


Isn’t translating and revising and retelling what we humans do?  Writing books, building houses, making dinner?  Mmmm….  This tastes wonderful!  How about if we have the leftovers tomorrow and we can add those wonderful tomatoes your mother grew!


Translation  —  Transition  —  Transformation

Pictograph  —  Linear A  —  Linear B

They might all say the same thing, but then, maybe not….