Memory and Learning: Myths and Facts

Dr Piotr Wozniak August 2003

New article by Dr. Piotr Wozniak: The true history of spaced repetition

Those who plan to improve their learning skills must be alert against a volley on false claims that are ripe in books and materials devoted to accelerated learning. This short and concise list should help you avoid books or websites that do not stick to the basics of science. In addition to memory myths, you will find, at the bottom, a summary of other myths described extensively at other places of this website.

Remember to remain skeptical. Hone your skepticism and treat this list with skepticism too. Consult reputable sources.

Contents:

Memory myths

  • Myth: It is possible to produce everlasting memories. Even reputable researchers use the term permastore (see: Prof. Harry Bahrick). It is a widely-held belief that it is possible to learn things well enough to protect them permanently from forgetting. Fact: It is possible to learn things well enough to make it nearly impossible to forget them in lifetime. Every long-term memory, depending on its strength, has an expected lifetime. When the memory strength is very high, the expected lifetime may be longer than our own lease on life. However, if we happened to get extra 200 years to live, no memory built in present life would remain safe without repetition
  • Myth: We never forget. Some accelerated-learning programs claim that we never forget what we learn. Knowledge simply gets "misplaced" and the key to good memory is to figure out how to dig it out. Fact: All knowledge is subject to gradual decay. Even your own name is vulnerable. It is only a matter of probability. Strong memories are very unlikely to be forgotten. The probability of forgetting one's name is like the probability of getting hit by an asteroid: possible but not considered on a daily basis
  • Myth: Memory is infinite. Fact: Anyone with basic computational understanding of memory knows this claim is absurd. However, this is just one of a million living claims that are incongruent with primary school level science. After all, half of Americans still believe the earth was created by God less than 10,000 years ago (apology). We cannot even hope to memorize Encyclopedia Britannica in lifetime. Memories are stored in a finite number of states of finite receptors in finite synapses in a finite volume of the human central nervous system. Even worse, storing information long-term is not easy. Most people will find it hard to go beyond 300,000 facts memorized in a lifetime. For the other extreme of this myth see: Memory overload may cause Alzheimer's
  • Myth: Mnemonics is a panacea to poor memory. Some memory programs focus 100% on mnemonic techniques. They claim that once you represent knowledge in an appropriate way, it can be memorized in a nearly-permanent way. Fact: Mnemonic techniques dramatically reduce the difficulty of retaining things in memory. However, they still do not produce everlasting memories. Repetition is still needed, even though it can be less frequent. If you compare your learning tools to a car, mnemonics is like a tire. You can go on without it, but it makes for a smooth ride
  • Myth: The more you repeat the better. Many books tell you to review your materials as often as possible (Repetitio mater studiorum est). Fact: Not only frequent repetition is a waste of your precious time, it may also prevent you from effectively forming strong memories. The fastest way to building long-lasting memories is to review your material in a precisely determined moments of time. For long memories with minimum effort use spaced repetition (see SuperMemo)
  • Myth: You should always use mnemonic techniques. Some enthusiasts of mnemonic techniques claim that you should use them in all situations and for all sorts of knowledge. They claim that learning without mnemonic techniques is always less effective. Fact: Mnemonic techniques also carry some costs. Sometimes it is easier to commit things to memory straight away. The pair of words teacher=instruisto in Esperanto is mnemonic on its own (assuming you know the rules of Esperanto grammar, basic roots and suffixes). Using mnemonic techniques may be an overkill in some circumstances. The rule of thumb is: evoke mnemonic techniques only when you detect a problem with remembering a given thing. For example, you will nearly always want to use a peg-system to memorize phone numbers. Best of all, mnemonic tricks should be a part of your automatically and subconsciously employed learning arsenal. You will develop it over a long run time with massive learning
  • Myth: We cannot improve memory by training. Infinite memory is a popular optimist's myth. A pessimist's myth is that we cannot improve our memory via training. Even William James in his genius book The Principles of Psychology (1890) wrote with certainty that memory does not change unless for the worse (e.g. as a result of disease). Fact: If considered at a very low synaptic level, memory is indeed quite resilient to improvement. Not only does it seem to change little in the course of life. It is also very similar in its action across the human population. At the very basic level, synapses of a low-IQ individual are as trainable as that of a genius. They are also not much different from those of a mollusk Aplysia or a fly Drosophila. However, there is more to memory and learning than just a single synapse. The main difference between poor students and geniuses is in their skill to represent information for learning. A genius quickly dismembers information and forms simple models that make life easy. Simple models of reality help understand it, process it and remember it. What William James failed to mention is that a week-long course in mnemonic techniques dramatically increases learning skills for many people. Their molecular or synaptic memory may not improve. What improves is their skill to handle knowledge. Consequently, they can remember more and longer. Learning is a self-accelerating and self-amplifying process. As such it often leads to miraculous results.
  • Myth: Encoding variability theory. Many researchers used to believe that presenting material in longer intervals is effective because of varying contexts in which the same information is presented. Fact: Methodical research indicates that the opposite is true. If you repeat your learning material in the exactly same context, your recall will be easier. Naturally, knowledge acquired in one context may be difficult to recover in another context. For this reason, your learning should focus on producing very precise memory trace that will be universally recoverable in varying contexts. For example, if you want to learn the word informavore, you should not ask How can I call John? He eats knowledge for breakfast. This definition is too context-dependent. Even if it is easy to remember, it may later appear useless. Better ask: How do I call a person who devours information?. Now, even if you always ask the same question in the same context, you are likely to correctly use the word informavore when it is needed. For more on encoding variability and spacing effect see: Spaced repetition in the practice of learning 
  • Myth: Mind maps are always better than pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. It is true that we remember pictures far better than words. It is true that mind maps are one of the best pictorial representations of knowledge. Some mnemonists claim that all we learn should be in the form of a picture or even a mind map. Fact: It all depends on the material we learn. One of the greatest advantages of text is its compactness and ease at which we can produce it. To memorize your grandma's birthday, you do not really need her picture. A simple verbal mnemonic will be fast to type and should suffice. In word-pair learning, 80% of your material may be textual and still be as good or even better than pictorials. If you ask about the date of the Battle of Trafalgar, you do not need a picture of Napoleon as an illustration. As long as you recall his face at the sound of his name, you have established all links needed to deduce relevant pieces of knowledge. If you add a picture of the actual battle, you will increase the quality and extent of memorized information, but you will need to invest extra minutes into finding the appropriate illustration. Sometimes a simple text formula is all you need
  • Myth: Review your material on the first day several times. Many authors suggest repeated drills on the day of the first contact with the new learning material. Others propose microspacing (i.e. using spaced repetition for intervals lasting minutes and hours). These are supposed to consolidate the newly learned knowledge. Fact: A single effective repetition on the first day of learning is all you need. Naturally it may happen, you cannot recall a piece of information upon a single exposure. In such cases you may need to repeat the drill. It may also happen that you cannot effectively put together related pieces of information and you need some review to build the big picture. However, in the ideal case, on the day #1 you should (1) understand and (2) execute a single successful active recall (such as answering the question "When did Pangea start breaking up?"). One exposure should then suffice to begin the process of consolidating the memory trace
  • Myth: Review your material next day after a good night sleep. Many authors believe that sleep consolidates memories and you need to strike iron while it is hot to ensure good recall. In other words, they suggest a good review on the next day after the first exposure. Fact: Although sleep is vital for learning and review is vital for remembering, the optimal timing of the first review is usually closer to 3-7 days. This number comes from calculations that underlie spaced repetition. If we aim to maximize the speed of learning at a steady 95% recall rate, most well-formulated knowledge for a well-trained student will call for the first review in 3-7 days. Some pieces must indeed be reviewed on the next day. Some can wait as long as a month. SuperMemo and other computer programs based on spaced repetition will optimize the length of the first interval before the first review
  • Myth: Learn new things before sleep. Because of the research showing the importance of sleep in learning, there is a widespread myth claiming that the best time for learning is right before sleep. This is supposed to ensure that newly learned knowledge gets quickly consolidated overnight. Fact: The opposite is true. The best time for learning in a healthy individual is early morning. Many students suffer from DSPS (see: Good sleep for good learning) and simply cannot learn in the morning. They are too drowsy. Their mind seems most clear in the quiet of the late night. They may indeed get better results by learning in the night, but they should rather try to resolve their sleep disorder (e.g. with free running sleep). Late learning may reduce memory interference, i.e. obliteration of the learned material by the new knowledge acquired during the day. However, a far more important factor is the neurohormonal state of the brain in the learning process. In a hormonal sense, the brain is best suited for learning in the morning. It shows highest alertness and the best balance between attention and creativity. The gains in knowledge structure and the speed of processing greatly outweigh all minor advantages of late-night learning
  • Myth: Long sleep is good for memory. Association of sleep and learning made many believe that the longer we sleep the healthier we are. In addition, long sleep improves memory consolidation. Fact: All we need for effective learning is well-structured sleep at the right time and of the optimum length. Many individuals sleep less than 5 hours and wake up refreshed. Many geniuses sleep little and practice catnaps. Long sleep may correlate with disease. This is why mortality studies show that those who sleep 7 hours live longer than 9-hour-sleepers. The best formula for good sleep: listen to your body. Go to sleep when you are sleepy and sleep as long as you need. When you catch a good rhythm without an alarm clock, your sleep may ultimately last less but produce far better results in learning. It is the natural healthy structure of sleep cycles that makes for good learning (esp. in non-declarative problem solving, creativity, procedural learning, etc.). It is not true that if your sleep is short, so is your memory
  • Myth: Alpha-waves are best for learning. Zillions of speed-learning programs propose learning in a "relaxed state". Consequently, gazillions of dollars are  misinvested by customers seeking instant relief to their educational pains. Fact: It is true that relaxed state is vital for learning. "Relaxed" here means stress-free, distraction-free, and fatigue-free. However, a red light should blink when you hear of fast learning through inducing alpha states. Alpha waves are better known from showing up when you are about to fall asleep. They are better correlated with lack of visual processing than with the absence of distracting stress. You do not need "alpha-wave machinery" to enter the "relaxed state". You can do far better by investing your time and money in ensuring good peaceful environment for learning, as well as in skills related to time-management, conflict-resolution, and stress-management. Neurofeedback devices may play a role in hard to crack stress cases. However, good health, peaceful environment, loving family, etc. are your simple bets for the "relaxed state"
  • Myth: Memory gets worse as we age. Aging universally affects all organs. 50% of 80-year-olds show symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Hence the overwhelming belief that memory unavoidably gets rusty at an older age. Fact: It is true we lose neurons with age. It is true that the risk of Alzheimer's increases with age. However, a well-trained memory is quite resilient and shows comparatively fewer functional signs of aging than the joints, the heart, the vascular system, etc. Moreover, training increases the scope of your knowledge, and paradoxically, your mental abilities may actually increase well into a very advanced age
  • Myth: You can boost your learning with memory pills. Countless companies try to market various drugs and supplements with claims of improved memory. Fact: There are no memory pills out there (August 2003). Many drugs and supplements indirectly help your memory by simply making you healthier. Many substances can help the learning process itself (e.g. small doses of caffeine, sugar, etc.), but these should not be central to your concerns. It is like running a marathon. There are foods and drugs that can help you run, but if you are a lousy runner, no magic pill can make finish in less than 3 hours. Do not bank on pharmiracles. A genius memory researcher Prof. Jim Tully believes that his CREB research will ultimately lead to a memory pill. However, his memory pill is not likely to specifically affect desired memories while leaving other memories to inevitable forgetting. As such, each application of the pill will likely produce a side effect of enhanced memory traces for all things learned in the affected period. Neural network researchers know the problem as stability-vs.-plasticity dilemma. Evolution solved this problem in a way that will be hard to change. Admittedly though, combination of a short-lasting memory enhancement with a sharply-focused spaced repetition (as with SuperMemo) could indeed bring further enhancement to learning
  • Myth: Learning by doing is the best. Everyone must have experienced the value of learning by doing. This form of learning often leads to memories that last for years. No wonder, some educators believe that learning by doing should monopolize educational practice. Fact: Learning by doing is very effective in terms of the quality of produced memories, but it is also very expensive in expenditure of time, material, organization, etc. The experience of a dead frog's leg coming to life upon touching a wire may stay with one for life (perhaps as murderous nightmares resulting from the guilt of killing). However, a single picture or mpeg of the same experiment can be downloaded from the net in seconds and retained for life with spaced repetition at the cost of 60-100 seconds. This is incomparably cheaper than hunting for frogs in a pond. When you learn to program your VCR, you do not try all functions listed in the manual as this could take a lifetime. You skim the highlights and practice only those clicks that are useful for you. We should practise learning by doing only then when it pays. Naturally, in the area of procedural learning (e.g. swimming, touch typing, playing instruments, etc.), learning by doing is the right way to go. That comes from the definition of procedural learning
  • Myth: It is possible to memorize Encyclopedia Britannica. Anecdotal evidence points to historical and legendary figures able of incredible feats of memory such as learning 56 languages by the age of 17, memorizing 100,000 hadiths, showing photographic memory lasting for years, etc. No wonder that it leads to the conviction that it is possible to memorize Britannica word for word. It is supposed to only be the question of the right talent or the right technique. Fact: A healthy, intelligent and non-mutant mind shows a surprisingly constant learning rate. If Britannica is presented as a set of well-formulated questions and answers, it is easy to provide a rough estimate of the total time needed to memorize it. If there are 44 million words in Britannica, we will generate 6-15 million cloze deletions, these will require 50-300 million repetitions by the time of job's end (see spaced repetition theory), and that translates to 25-700 years of work assuming 6 hours of unflagging daily effort. All that assuming that the material is ready-to-memorize. Preparing appropriate questions and answers may take 2-5 times more than the mere memorization. If language fluency is set at 20,000 items (this is what you need to pass TOEFL in flying colors or comfortably read Shakespeare), the lifetime limit on learning languages around 50 might not be impossible (assuming total dawn-to-dusk dedication to the learning task). Naturally, those who claim fluency in 50 languages, are more likely to show an arsenal of closer to 2000 words per language and still impress many
  • Myth: Hypertext can substitute for memory. An amazingly large proportion of the population holds memorization in contempt. Terms "rote memorization", "recitatory rehearsal", "mindless repetition" are used to label any form of memorization or repetition as unintelligent. Seeing the "big picture", "reasoning" and leaving the job of remembering to external hypertext sources are supposed to be viable substitutes. Fact: Associative memory underlies the power of the human mind. Hypertext references are a poor substitute for associative memory. Two facts stored in human memory can instantly be put together and bring a new idea to life. The same facts stored on the Internet will remain useless until they are pieces together inside a creative mind. A mind rich in knowledge, can produce rich associations upon encountering new information. An empty mind is as useful as a toddler given the power of the Internet in search of a solution. Biological neural networks work in such a way, that knowledge is retained in memory only if it is refreshed/reviewed. Learning and repetition are therefore still vital for the progress of mankind.
  • Myth: People differ in the speed of learning, but they all forget at the same speed. Fact: Although there are mutations that might affect the forgetting rate, at the very lowest biological level, i.e. the synaptic level, the rate of forgetting is indeed basically the same; independent of how smart you are. However, the same thing that makes people learn faster, helps them forget slower. The key to learning and slow forgetting is representation (i.e. the way knowledge is formulated). If you learn with SuperMemo, you will know that items can range from being very difficult to being very easy. The difficult ones are forgotten much faster and require shorter intervals between repetitions. The key to making items easy, is to formulate them well. Moreover, good students will show better performance on the exactly same material. This is because the ultimate test on the formulation of knowledge is not in how it is structured in your learning material, but in the way it is stored in your mind. With massive learning effort, you will gradually improve the way you absorb and represent knowledge in your mind. The fastest student is the one who can instinctively visualize and store knowledge in his mind using minimum-information maximum-connectivity imagery
  • Myth: Learning while sleeping. An untold number of learning programs promises you to save years of life by learning during sleep. Fact: It is possible to store selected memories generated during sleep by: external stimuli, dreams, hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations (i.e. hallucinations experienced while falling asleep and while waking up). However, it is nearly impossible to harness this process into productive learning. The volume of knowledge that can be gained during sleep is negligible. Learning in sleep may be disruptive to sleep itself. Learning while sleeping should not be confused with the natural process of memory consolidation and optimization that occurs during sleep. This process occurs during a complete sensory cut-off, i.e. there are no known methods of influencing its course to the benefit of learning. Learning while sleeping is not only a complete waste of time. It may simply be unhealthy
  • Myth: High fluency reflects high memory strength. Our daily observations seem to indicate that if we recall things easily,  if we show high fluency, we are likely to remember things for long. Fact: Fluency is not related to memory strength! The two-component model of long-term memory shows that fluency is related to the memory variable called retrievability, while the length of the period in which we can retain memories is related to another variable called stability. These two variables are independent. This means that we cannot derive memory stability from the current fluency (retrievability). The misconception comes from the fact that in traditional learning, i.e. learning that is not based on spaced repetition, we tend to remember only memories that are relatively easy to remember. Those memories will usually show high fluency (retrievability). They will also last for long for reasons of importance, repetition, emotional attachment, etc. No wonder that we tend to believe that high fluency is correlated with memory strength. Users of SuperMemo can testify that despite excellent fluency that follows a repetition, the actual length of the interval in which we recall an item will rather depend on the history of previous repetitions, i.e. we remember better those items that have been repeated many times. See also: automaticity vs. probability of forgetting

The list of myths is by no means complete. I included only the most damaging distortions of the truth, i.e. the ones that can affect even a well-informed person. I did not include myths that are an offence to our intelligence. I did not ponder over repressed memories, subliminal learning, psychic learning, or remote viewing (unlike CIA). The list is simply too long.

See also: Memory FAQ

Sleep myths (see: Good sleep for good learning for a more comprehensive list)

  • Myth: Since we feel rested after sleep, sleep must be for resting. Ask anyone, even a student of medicine: What is the role of sleep? Nearly everyone will tell you: Sleep is for rest. Fact: Sleep is for optimizing the structure of memories. If it was for rest or energy saving, we would cover the saving by consuming just one apple per night. To effectively encode memories, mammals, birds and even reptiles need to turn off the thinking and do some housekeeping in their brains. This is vital for survival. This is why the evolution produced a defense mechanism against skipping sleep. If we do not get sleep, we feel miserable. We are not actually as wasted as we feel, the damage can be quickly repaired by getting a good night sleep. Our health may not suffer as much as our learning and intelligence. Feeling wasted in sleep deprivation is the result of our brain dishing punishment for not sticking to the rules of an intelligent form of life. Let the memory do restructuring in its programmed time
  • Myth: Sleeping little makes you more competitive. Many people are so busy with their lives that they sleep only 3-4 hours per night. Moreover, they believe that sleeping little makes them more competitive. Many try to train themselves for minimum sleep. Donald Trump, in his newest book, tells you: "If you want to be a billionaire, sleep as little as possible". Fact: It is true that many geniuses slept little. Many business sharks slept even less. However, the only good formula for maximum long-term competitiveness is via maximum health and maximum creativity. If Trump sleeps 3 hours per night and enjoys his work, he is likely to run it on alertness hormones (ACTH, cortisol, adrenaline, etc.). His sleep is probably structured very well and he may extract more neural benefit per hour of sleep than an average 8-hours-per-night sleeper. Yet that should not make you try to beat yourself to action with an alarm clock. You will get shortest and maximum quality sleep only then when you perfectly hit your circadian low-time, i.e. when your body tells you "now it is time to sleep". Sleep in wrong hours, or sleep interrupted with an alarm clock is bound to undermine your intellectual performance and creativity. Occasionally, you may think that a loss on intellectual side will be counterbalanced with the gain on the action side (e.g. clinching this vital deal). Remember though, that you also need to factor in the long-term health consequences. Unless, of course, you think a heart attack at 45 is a good price to pay for becoming a billionaire  
  • Myth: Sleeping pills will help you sleep better. Fact: Benzodiazepines can help you sleep, but this sleep is of far less quality than naturally induced sleep (the term "sleeping pill" here does not apply to sleep-inducing supplements such as melatonin, minerals, or herbal preparations). Not only are benzodiazepines disruptive to the natural sleep stage sequence. They are also addictive and subject to tachyphylaxis (the more you take the more you need to take). Sleeping pills can be useful in circumstances where sleep is medically vital, and cannot be achieved by other means. Otherwise, avoid sleeping pills whenever possible
  • Myth: Silence and darkness are vital for sleep. This may be the number one advice for insomniacs: use your sleeping room for sleep only, keep it dark and quiet. Fact: Silence and darkness indeed make it easier to fall asleep. They may also help maintain sleep when it is superficial. However, they are not vital. Moreover, for millions of insomniacs, focusing on peaceful sleeping place obscures the big picture: the most important factor that makes us sleep well, assuming good health, is the adherence to one's natural circadian rhythm! People who go to sleep along their natural rhythm can often sleep well in bright sunshine. They can also show remarkable tolerance to a variety of noises (e.g. loud TV, family chatter, the outside window noise, etc.). This is all possible thanks to the sensory gating that occurs during sleep executed "in phase". Absence of sensory gating in "wrong phase" sleep can easily be demonstrated by lesser changes to AEPs (auditory evoked potentials) registered at various parts of the auditory pathway in the brain. Noises will wake you up if you fail to enter deeper stages of sleep, and this failure nearly always comes from sleeping at the wrong circadian phase (e.g. going to sleep too early). If you suffer from insomnia, focus on understanding your natural sleep rhythm. Peaceful sleeping place is secondary (except in cases of impaired sensory gating as in some elderly). Insomniacs running their daily ritual of perfect darkness, quiet,  stresslessness and sheep-counting are like a stranded driver hoping for fair winds instead of looking for the nearest gas station. Even worse, if you keep your place peaceful, you run the risk of falling asleep early enough to be reawakened by the quick elimination of the homeostatic component of sleep. Learn the principles of healthy sleep that will make you sleep in all conditions. Only then focus on making your sleeping place as peaceful as possible. For more see: Good sleep, good learning
  • Myth: People are of morning or evening type. Fact: This is more of a misnomer than a myth. Evening type people, with chronotherapy, can easily be made to wake up with the sun. What people really differ in is the period of their body clock, as well as the sensitivity to and availability of stimuli that reset that rhythm (e.g. light, activity, stress, etc.). People with an unusually long natural day and low sensitivity to resetting stimuli will tend to work late and wake up late. Hence the tendency to call them "evening type". Those people do not actually prefer evenings, they simply prefer longer working days. The lifestyle affects the body clock as well. A transition from a farmer's lifestyle to a student's lifestyle will result in a slight change to the sleeping rhythm. This is why so many students feel as if they were of the evening type
  • Myth: Avoid naps. Fact: Naps may indeed worsen insomnia in people suffering from DSPS, esp. if taken too late in the day. Otherwise, naps are highly beneficial to intellectual performance. It is possible to take naps early in the day without affecting one's sleeping rhythm. Those naps must fall before or inside the so-called dead zone where a nap does not produce a phase response (i.e. shift in the circadian rhythm) 
  • Myth: Night shifts are unhealthy. Fact: People working in night shifts are often forced out of work by various ailments such as a heart condition. However, it is not night shifts that are harmful. It is the constant switching of the sleep rhythm from day to night and vice versa. It would be far healthier to let night shift people develop their own regular rhythm in which they would stay awake throughout the night. It is not night wakefulness that is harmful. It is the way we force our body do things it does not want to do
  • Myth: Going to bed at the same time is good for you. Fact: Many sleep experts recommend going to sleep at the same time every day. Regular rhythm is indeed a form of chronotherapy recommended in many circadian rhythm problems. However, people with severe DSPS may simply find it impossible to go to sleep at the same time everyday. Such forced attempts will only result in a self-feeding cycle of stress and insomnia. In such cases, the struggle with one's own rhythm is simply unhealthy. Unfortunately, people suffering from DSPS are often forced into a "natural" rhythm by their professional and family obligations
  • Myth: People who sleep less live longer. In 2002, Dr Kripke compared the length of sleep with longevity (1982 data from a cancer risk survey). He figured out that those who sleep 6-7 hours live longer than those who sleep 8 hours and more. No wonder that a message started spreading that those who sleep less live longer. Fact: The best longevity prognosis is ensured by sleeping in compliance with one's natural body rhythm. Those who stick to their own good rhythm often sleep less because their sleep is better structured (and thus more refreshing). "Naturally sleeping" people live longer. Those who sleep against their body call, often need to clock more hours and still do not feel refreshed. Moreover, disease is often correlated with increased demand for sleep. Infectious diseases are renowned for a dramatic change in sleep patterns. When in coma, you are not likely to be adding years to your life. Correlation is not causation
  • Myth: A nap is a sign of weakness. Fact: A nap is not a sign of weakness, ill-health, laziness or lack of vigor. It is a philogenetic remnant of a biphasic sleeping rhythm. Not all people experience a significant mid-day slump in mental performance. It may be well masked by activity, stress, contact with people, sport, etc. However, if you experience a slump around the 6th to 8th hour of your day, taking a nap can dramatically boost your performance in the second half of the day
  • Myth: Alarm clock can help you regulate the sleep rhythm. Fact: An alarm clock can help you push your sleep rhythm into the desired framework, but it will rarely help you accomplish a healthy sleep rhythm. The only tried-and-true way to accomplish a healthy sleep and a healthy sleep rhythm is to go to sleep only when you are truly sleepy, and to wake up naturally without external intervention
  • Myth: Being late for school is bad. Fact: Kids who persistently cannot wake up for school should be left alone. Their fresh mind and health are far more important. 60% of kids under 18 complain of daytime tiredness and 15% fall asleep at school (US, 1998). Parents who regularly punish their kids for being late for school should immediately consult a sleep expert as well as seek help in attenuating the psychological effects of the trauma resulting from the never ending cycle of stress, sleepiness and punishment
  • Myth: Being late for school is a sign of laziness. Fact: If a young person suffers from DSPS, it may have perpetual problems with getting up for school in time. Those kids are often actually brighter than average and are by no means lazy. However, their optimum circadian time for intellectual work comes after the school or even late into the evening. At school they are drowsy and slow and simply waste their time. If chronotherapy does not help, parents should consider later school hours or even home-schooling
  • Myth: We can sleep 3 hours per day. Many people enviously read about Tesla's or Edison's sleeping habits and hope they could train themselves to sleep only 3 hours per day having far more time for other activities. Fact: This might work if you plan to party all the time. And if your health is not a consideration. And if your intellectual capacity is not at stake. You can sleep 3 hours and survive. However, if your aspirations go beyond that, you should rather sleep exactly as much as your body wants. That is an intelligent man's optimum. With your improved health and intellectual performance, your lifetime gains will be immense
  • Myth: We can adapt to polyphasic sleep. Looking at the life of lone sailors, many people believe they can adopt polyphasic sleep and save many hours per day. In polyphasic sleep, you take only 4-5 short naps during the day totaling less than 4 hours. There are many "systems" differing in the arrangement of naps. There are also many young people ready to suffer the pains to see it work. Although a vast majority will drop out, a small circle of the most stubborn ones will survive a few months and will perpetuate the myth with a detriment to public health. Fact: We are basically biphasic and all attempts to change the inbuilt rhythm will result in loss of health, time, and mental capacity. Polyphasic sleep has not been designed for maximum alertness (let alone maximum creativity). It has been designed for maximum alertness in conditions of sleep deprivation (as in solo yachting). A simple rule is: when sleepy, go to sleep; while asleep, continue uninterrupted. See: The myth of polyphasic sleep
  • Myth: Sleep before midnight is more valuable. Fact: Sleep is most valuable if it comes at the time planned by your own body clock mechanism. If you are not sleepy before midnight, forcing yourself can actually ruin your night if you wake up early
  • Myth: The body will always crave excess sleep as it craves excess food. Some people draw a parallel between our tendency to overeat with sleep. They believe that if we let the body dictate the amount of sleep, it will always ask for more than needed. As a result, they prefer to cut sleep short with an alarm clock to "optimize" the amount of sleep they get. Fact: Unlike storage of fat, there seems to be little evolutionary benefit to extra sleep. Probably, our typical 6-8 hour sleep is just enough to do all "neural housekeeping". People with sleep deficit may indeed tend to sleep obscenely long. However, once they catch up and get into the rhythm, the length of their sleep is actually likely to decrease!
  • Myth: Magnesium, folates, and other supplements can help you sleep better. Fact: Nutrients needed for good health are also good for sleep. However, supplementation is not likely to play a significant role in resolving your sleep problems. Vitamins may help if you are in deficit, but a vast majority of sleep disorders in society come from the lack of respect or understanding of the circadian rhythm. Only wisely administered melatonin is known to have a beneficial effect on the advancement of sleep phase. If you are having problems with sleep, read Good sleep for good life. As for supplements, stick to a standard healthy diet. That should suffice
  • Myth: It is best to wake up with the sun. Fact: You should wake up at the time when your body decides it got enough of sleep. If this happens to be midday, a curtain over the window will prevent you from being woken up by the sun. At the same time sun may help you reset your body clock and help you wake up earlier. People who wake up naturally with the sun are indeed among the healthiest creatures on the planet. However, if you do not wake up naturally before 4 am, trying to do so with the help of an alarm clock will only add misery to your life
  • Myth: You cannot change the inherent period length of your body clock. Fact: With various chronotherapeutic tricks it is possible to change the period of the clock slightly. It can be reset or advanced harmlessly by means of melatonin, bright light, exercise, meal timing, etc. It can also be reset in a less healthy way: with an alarm clock. However, significant lifestyle changes may be needed to resolve severe cases of DSPS or ASPS. The therapy may be stressful, and the slightest deviation from the therapeutic regimen may result in the relapse to an undesirable rhythm. Those who employ free-running sleep may take the easiest way out of the period length problem: stick to the period that is the natural outcome of your current lifestyle 
See also: Sleep FAQ

Creativity myths (see: Genius and Creativity for a more comprehensive list)

  • Myth: You must be born with a creative mind! Fact: Some kids indeed show an incredible curiosity and rage to master. However, there are many techniques that can help you multiply your creativity. Creativity is trainable. See Genius and Creativity for some hints
  • Myth: If you miss childhood, your genius is lost! Fact: Human brain is plastic by definition. In many fields of learning, childhood neglect makes later progress harder; however, training can always produce miracles. Childhood is very important for growth, but if you lost it, you can still catch up in many areas with intense training
  • Myth: Do not memorize! Fact: This fallacy comes from the fact that many sources fail to delineate the full spectrum of knowledge applicability from dry useless facts to highly abstract reasoning rules. Understanding, thinking, problem solving, creativity, etc. are all based on knowledge. This rule should rather be formulated as: Knowledge selection is critical for success in learning The correct and non pejorative definition of the word memorize is to: "commit knowledge to memory". Along this definition, you can say: Do memorize! Just make a smart selection of things to learn. See: Smart and dumb learning for a discussion and examples
  • Myth: Proliferation of geniuses is a threat to humanity. Fact: Most of the good things that surround us are a product of nature, love, or human genius. It is true that the output of genius minds is often used for evil purposes; however, halting genius would be equivalent to halting or reversing the global progress
  • Myth: If you do something stupid, so are you! Fact: Human brain is an imperfectly programmed machine. It never stops learning and verifying its errors. Its knowledge base is painfully limited. The same brain may be able to disentangle the complexities of the string theory and then slip on simple sums. Notes left by Newton, Leibnitz or Babbage show that they erred on their way to great discovery or meandered in an entirely wrong direction. We measure genius by its top accomplishments, not by the lack of failures
  • Myth: Geniuses do not forget things! Fact: Genius brains are made of the same substance as average ones. Consequently, their memories are subject to the exactly same laws of forgetting. All knowledge in the human brain declines along a negatively exponential curve. Forgetting is as massive in a genius mind as it is in any other. The best tools against forgetting are (1) good knowledge representation (e.g. mnemonic techniques) and (2) review (based on active recall and spaced repetition). Geniuses may hold an advantage by developing powerful representation skills that make learning much easier. They often develop those skills early and without a conscious effort. However, the science of mnemonics is well developed and you can see a dramatic difference in your knowledge representation skills after a week-long course
  • Myth: Geniuses sleep little! Fact: When looking at Edison, Tesla, or Churchill it is easy to believe that cutting down on sleep does not seem to pose a problem in creative achievement. Those who try to work creatively in conditions of sleep deprivation will quickly discover though that fresh mind is by far more important than those 2-3 hours one can save by sleeping less. A less visible side effect of sleep deprivation is the effect on memory consolidation and creativity in the long term. Lack of sleep hampers remembering. It also prevents creative associations built during sleep. It is not true that geniuses sleep less. Einstein would work best if he got a solid nine hours of sleep
  • Myth: Early to ripe, early to rot! Fact: Terman Study contradicts this claim. A majority of precocious kids go on to do great things in life 
  • Myth: You need a degree! Fact: Edison got only 3 months of formal schooling. Lincoln spent less than a year at school. Benjamin Franklin's formal education ended when he was 10. Graham Bell was mostly family trained and self-taught. Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Dean Kamen, and Bill Gates were all college drop-outs. Isaac Newton found school boring and was considered by many a mediocre student. However, there is one thing they all had in common: they loved books and could spend whole days reading and studying
  • Myth: Genius can be evil! Fact: Evil, by definition, is foolish. One can show genius skills in a narrow field and still be an evil person, but an evil human being does not deserve a title of a genius. True wisdom can reach far beyond a narrow field of specialization. It will inevitably encompass the matters of ethics. This is why all true geniuses are deeply concerned with the future of humanity. See: Goodness of knowledge 
  • Myth: Be unique! This boosts creativity! Fact: The relationship between uniqueness and creativity is reverse. It is true that many creative people are unique or strange in behavior. This comes from their creative way of looking at things and unwillingness to stick to those forms of tradition that defy reason. By no means an effort towards uniqueness will boost creativity. It is true that Einstein smoked a pipe, but it does not mean that you will be more of a genius if you take on smoking a pipe
  • Myth: TV makes you stupid! Fact: TV or radio can be harmful if you are unable to control what you watch or listen, or if you are unable to optimize the proportion of your time spent on broadcasts. Otherwise, TV is still hard to match in its ability to present to you a pre-selected and emphatically graphic video material for the purposes of education or getting informed. Video education based on the material from reputable channels may be the most efficient form of tutor-less education. Swap MTV for Discovery, and make a good selection. Although you cannot employ incremental video watching yet (cf. incremental reading), a dose of daily DVDR viewing will help you stay up to date with the news and brush up your general education 
  • Myth: Curiosity killed the cat! Fact: As long as you stay within the boundaries of politeness, live by a better proverb: Curiosity is your pass to the kingdom of knowledge 
  • Myth: Mozart effect. Listening to Mozart increases intelligence. Fact: Mozart was one of the greatest musical geniuses in history. His music might be used in musicality training and produce far better neural effects than, say, today's pop music. However, Mozart's impact on neural growth cannot be verifiably judged better than that of solving cross-word puzzles, singing, playing soccer or learning chemistry. To a philistine, Mozart may do as much good as a recitation of Goethe's poems to a baboon. Neither is listening to Mozart superior to listening to your favorite pieces of music for the sake of boosting "happy brain messengers". Mozart has been cannibalized by the accelerated learning industry as a simple way towards a quick buck. Few gimmicks are as simple as packaging a Mozart CD with a label "Learn 10 times faster". Mozart Effect powerfully illustrates the myth-making power of money. This power has also spawned other cheap "learning solutions" such as learning while sleeping, learning while relaxing, or memory-boosting supplements. Regrettably, even highly respected and reputable websites, journals or TV program fall prey to these catchy memes. Your vigilance needs to triple in these areas

  • Myth: We use only 0.1% of our brain power. Some reputable researchers derived the 0.1% figure from a simple calculation involving the number of neurons and the numbers of synapses residing in the human brain. The resulting figure seemed to imply an astounding computational capacity. Fact: The brain is energetically a very expensive organ. Only major improvements in human diet in the course of human evolution made it possible to provide for a substantial gain in the brain mass. If the 0.1% or even the 10% claim was to be true, the unused portions of the brain would quickly fall prey to natural selection resulting in energy-saving shrinkage of the brain. A living brain even prunes those circuits that are of little use and sprouts new connections there where they are needed. Portions of brain are programmed to execute highly specialized functions, other portions can easily be used to store vast expanses of declarative knowledge. The process of forgetting has been fine tuned to maximize the use of the existing storage in the reproductive lifetime. Nevertheless, it is not likely we ever run out of memory space when using the trick of spaced repetition to maximize the inflow of new information to memory
  • Myth: Gifted kids become genius adults. Fact: It is the personality and the training that determine the final outcome. Most of gifted kids are lucky to do well; however, giftedness should not be taken for granted 

See also: Genius and creativity FAQ

SuperMemo myths

Ever since it was conceived, SuperMemo had to struggle with myths slowing down its popularization. Preventing the reappearance of myths appears to be a never-ending battle. The knowledge about SuperMemo has grown to a substantial volume. Not all users can afford reading dozens of articles. Many are prone to arrive to the same wrong conclusions independently of others. Some of these myths are rooted in general myths of memory (as above). Others seem to spring from the common sense thinking about learning. Here are some most damaging myths related to spaced repetition and SuperMemo:

  • Myth: SuperMemo can only be used for learning languages. SuperMemo gained most popularity by its effectiveness in learning vocabulary of foreign languages. Hence the myth that SuperMemo is a program for learning languages. A related myth is that it is a program that can only be used for cramming facts, while it cannot effectively be used for complex sciences, rules, modeling, problem solving, creativity, etc. Fact: SuperMemo can be used in any form of declarative learning (i.e. learning of things you can find in textbooks as opposed to learning to ride a bike, etc.). Word-pair learning appears to be the simplest application, while learning complex facts and rules of science may require far more skills in formulating the learning material. This is why many users are indeed unsuccessful when trying to learn, for example, astronomy. If you read 20 rules of formulating knowledge you will realize the number of snags that have to be overcome. Those snags contribute to Myth #1 on the limited applicability of SuperMemo
  • Myth: SuperMemo is a great tool for cramming. Many first-time users hear it by word of mouth that SuperMemo is a great tool for cramming. They are ready to buy the program only for the purpose of an exam coming in a week. Fact: SuperMemo is nearly useless for cramming knowledge that is supposed to last less than a week. For fast cramming to an exam, use traditional review, recall, repeat approach known to crammers for ages. The power of SuperMemo increases in proportion to the expected lifetime of knowledge in your memory. SuperMemo is useful if you need to remember things for a year (e.g. legal code). It is more useful if you learn for a decade (e.g. a programming language). But it is unsurpassed in gathering lifetime knowledge (e.g. anatomy, geography, history, etc.)
  • Myth: SuperMemo is hard to use. Several thousand FAQs and the 5 MB help file make many think SuperMemo is complex. It may appear like a program dedicated to heavyweight professionals. This makes it seem like a program of little use to mere mortals. Fact: It is true that some users start from the "wrong end" or wrong pre-conceived assumptions. They may indeed get lost or frustrated. However, a well-tested and certified fact is that SuperMemo can be used effectively after a 3 minute introduction! A great part of its power (perhaps a half) can be harnessed by learning just two operations: Add new (adding new questions and answers) and Learn (making repetitions). Naturally, things get gradually more complex when you start adding multimedia, foreign language support, templates, categories, etc. At the other end, incremental reading, a powerful reading and learning technique, may require months of training before bringing quality results. You can easily start using SuperMemo today, and gradually build skills needed to expand its power
  • Myth: SuperMemo is useless. Some people truly believe that the natural mechanisms of building long-term memories are superior to spaced repetition. Fact: Our brain prefers "easy" over "important". We excel at remembering celebrity trivia. We are dismal at recalling mathematical formulas learned in high school. In addition, those who deny the value of spaced repetition usually fail to appreciate the value of associative memory, or fail to delineate the distinction between cramming facts and learning universal inference rules. There are many traps of ignorance that prevent people from ever trying SuperMemo. See: SuperMemo is Useless and No force in the world can convince me to SuperMemo
  • Myth: As you add more material to SuperMemo, your repetition loads mount beyond being manageable. No item added to SuperMemo is considered "memorized for good". For that reasons, all items are subject to review sooner or later. This makes many believe that there is an inevitable increase in the cost of repetitions. Fact: It is true that a large number of outstanding repetitions is the primary excuse for SuperMemo drop-outs. However, computer simulations as well as real-life measurements show that, with the constant daily learning time, the acquisition of new knowledge does not visibly slow down in time (except the very first couple of months). In other words, from a long-term perspective, the acquisition of new knowledge is nearly linear. Older items are repeated less and less quickly leaving room for new material. The exponential nature of this "fading" explains why we can continue with a heavy inflow of new material for decades
  • Myth: SuperMemo repetitions take too much time. Many users struggle with an increasing load of repetitions and may conclude that the effort is not worth the outcome. Fact: Just 3 well-selected items memorized per day may produce a better effect than a hundred crammed facts. This means that even a minute per day will make a world of difference, as long as you pay attention to what you learn. Not all knowledge is worth the effort of 99% retention. High retention should be reserved only for mission-critical facts and rules. Last but not least: knowledge formulating skills may cut the learning time in beginners by more than 90%
  • Myth: SuperMemo is expensive. At prices approaching $40 for the newest Windows version, SuperMemo may seem too expensive for users in poorer countries of Africa, Asia or even Eastern Europe. Fact: Older versions of SuperMemo for DOS and Windows are free. Its on-line version is still free. Even the newest version of SuperMemo is available free for contributors to SuperMemo Library
  • Myth: SuperMemo requires a computer. Fact: See: paper and pencil SuperMemo
  • Myth: We do not need SuperMemo, all we need is to build an index to knowledge sources. With multiple on-line sources of knowledge, some people are tempted to believe that memorizing things is no longer needed. All we supposedly need to learn is how to access and use these external sources of knowledge. Fact: Knowledge stored in human memory is associative in nature. In other words, we are able to suddenly combine two known ideas to produce a new quality: an invention. We cannot (yet) effectively associate ideas that live on the Internet or in an encyclopedia. All creative geniuses need knowledge to form new concepts. The extent of this knowledge will vary, but the creative output does depend on the volume of knowledge, its associative nature, and its abstractness (i.e. its relevance in building models). Lastly, even "index to knowledge" is subject to forgetting and needs to be maintained via repetition or review. See: SuperMemo is Useless
  • Myth: Many people are successful without using SuperMemo, hence its importance is secondary. Fact: Neither Darwin nor Newton had access to computers, yet computer illiteracy may make today's scientist entirely impotent. Similarly, with a growing importance of knowledge, neglecting the competitive advantage of a wider and stable knowledge will increasingly limit your chances of successful career in science, engineering, medicine, politics, etc. You can live without SuperMemo, but it can definitely raise your learning to a new level
  • Myth: Natural mechanism of selecting important memories is good enough. We do not need a crutch. The evolution produced an effective forgetting mechanism that frees our memory from space-consuming and perhaps irrelevant garbage. This mechanism proved efficient enough to build the amazing human civilization. Consequently, many believe that there cannot be much room for improvement. Fact: The forgetting mechanism was built in abstraction from our wishes and decisions. It only spares memories that are used frequently enough. Now though, we are smart enough to decide on our own which knowledge is vital and which is not. A single peek into a dictionary may often take more time than the lifetime cost of refreshing the same word in SuperMemo. And that is the least spectacular example. Human history is rich in monumental errors coming from ignorance. NASA's confusion of imperial and metric units cost a lost Mars probe. Confusion of comma with a dot in Fortran, cost a Venus probe. Errors in English communication caused many aerial and maritime catastrophes. A piece of knowledge in surgeon's mind may be worth the life of his patient. Forgetting is too precarious to leave mission-critical knowledge in its hands. SuperMemo puts you in command
  • Myth: Developing photographic memory is a better investment. Fact: A great deal of claims related to photographic memory are vastly exaggerated or plain false. Mnemonic tools are vital for efficient learning, but they are no substitute to SuperMemo. They are complementary. Techniques such as Photoreading use the same catchy photo-scanner concept. Unlike SuperMemo, they are easy to publicize and comprehend. However, SuperMemo's superiority in the arsenal of a student's tools is easily demonstrable with plain facts of science, as well as in the practice of learning. For more see: articles at supermemo.com
  • Myth: Memorizing multiplication table only deprives one of computing skills. Like kids using calculators, those who memorize the multiplication table with SuperMemo are supposed to be less numerate (i.e. less fluent in their calculation skills). Fact: Memorizing the basic 9x9 multiplication table is the cornerstone of all calculation on paper and in mind. Memorizing the 20x20 multiplication table is also a good way of training basic multiplication skills. It is hardly possible to actually memorize the 20x20 table. Intuitively, most students do it the right way by using the combination of their familiar 9x9 table and their adding skills. For example, 14*16 is remembered as 10*14+6*14=140+6*10+6*4=140+60+24=224. This means that the student uses (1) a simple decomposition, (2) zero-shifting rule, (3) the 9x9 table once (to figure out that 4*6=24) and then (4) addition (to add the resulting three numbers). In contrast to the myth, all students who learned the 20x20 multiplication table report a dramatic increase in their multiplication skills. Alas, there is relatively very little carry over to division skills. These require additional learning material and slightly more complex skills (see: Division Table)
  • Myth: SuperMemo is so simple that it is not needed (PalmGear user's comment). Fact: Simplicity of an idea usually enhances its usefulness. The underlying idea of SuperMemo (increasing intervals) is indeed very simple. However, doing all computations by hand makes little sense, and not employing spaced repetition is bound to negatively affect learning. Consequently, SuperMemo is necessary for knowledge where retention levels are to reach above 80%. Otherwise, any disorganized system of repetitions becomes very wasteful. Ironically, many users of SuperMemo for Windows complain that the program is too complex (see Myth: SuperMemo is Hard
  • Myth: The main learning bottleneck is short-term memory, hence SuperMemo is not needed. Some educators live by the wrong conviction that it is the short-term memory that is the bottleneck of learning. This comes from common daily observations of devastating leak in sensory memory. We retain only a fraction of what we perceive. Fact: The opposite is true. Short-term memory is indeed very leaky. However, we can retain in short-term memory far more than we can retain over the long term. The myth is partly derived from the conviction that long-term memory is virtually limitless. The error comes from noticing the huge long-term storage, while neglecting the difficulty with which we retain knowledge in that storage. An advanced student will quickly learn all mnemonic tricks necessary to retain far more in his or her short-term memory than (s)he is able to convert into a lasting knowledge
  • Myth: Drilling fluency is more important that drilling for retention. Some students and educators believe that they need to train for quick retrieval which often determines the performance (e.g. as in IQ tests). They believe that clocking the repetition improves the retention. Fact: The myth originates from the research by B.F. Skinner's student Ogden Lindsley in the 1960s, which shows how fluency training can demonstrably enhance learning (e.g. in classroom conditions). Lindsley's fluency research does not translate directly to spaced repetition methodology though due to the problem of spacing effect (see also: Memory myth: Fluency reflects memory strength). The procedure that may enhance recall after a single session is not necessarily optimum for repeated active recall in spaced repetition. A clocked drill is more likely to evoke the spacing effect as retrieval difficulty enhances memory consolidation. Consequently, a timed drill will actually increase the frequency of repetitions and overall repetition workload per item. In SuperMemo terms, the effect is similar to an attempt to reduce the forgetting index below 3%. Assuming maximum attention, slow considerate repetition is likely to leave more durable memory traces than a clocked fluency drill. Fluency training makes sense for knowledge whose retrieval is time-critical. This may refer to procedural learning, training before tests based on fluency, foreign language training, reading fluency, etc. However, for fields where creativity is more important than speed, or where solving the problem is more important than solving it fast, "slow" (i.e. meticulous and considerate) learning is recommended. Independently, in SuperMemo, it is the user who determines the grading criteria in learning. Fluency may, but does not have to be included in self-assessment. In other words, although speedy drills are not recommended, SuperMemo does not prevent the user from employing them

See also: SuperMemo FAQ


Language learning myths

Antimoon has compiled another myth list related to language learning: Language learning: Myths and facts.

I personally disagree with classifying the tolerance for language errors as a strategic mistake (myth: "It's OK to make mistakes"). Antimoon's approach assumes that the student's goals is to reach a perfect command of the language, while most students are rather interested in maximum communication fluency in minimum time. When learning English myself, I was primarily interested in communication while accepting a large margin of tolerance for non-semantic errors. This left me with a legacy of wrong habits that are hard to root out. Yet my communication goals have been accomplished on target. Given a choice, I would chose the same strategy again. This is why I would cut Antimoon's myth list by one position 


Skepticism

Remain skeptical. Read more about the myths listed above. Drop me an e-mail if you disagree. Or if you believe I missed a dangerous myth that should be included. You can rant about this article here.

Some websites devote all their energy to dispel myths that propagate throughout the population. Myths are friends of ignorance. They do damage to individuals and societies. They are also food for ruthless scams that currently breed rich on the net. Here are a couple of links to websites that I would like to praise for their commendable efforts in the struggle against ignorance, superstition, as well as plain deception:

  • Skeptic's Dictionary - Prof. T. Carroll's monumental effort listing the most dangerous, most deceptive, most bizarre, as well as the most amusing beliefs, myths and "theories" such as: astrology, clairvoyance, creationism, dianetics, divination, dowsing, homeopathy, NLP, psychokinesis, reincarnation, Silva method, telepathy, teleportation, UFO, etc.
  • James Randi Educational Foundation - best known for his Million Dollar Challenge, James Randi tirelessly fights against anything paranormal. Anyone able to demonstrate paranormal, supernatural, or occult phenomena via a scientifically controlled experiment can claim Randi's $1 million reward
  • Quackwatch - Dr Stephen Barrett's equally impressive struggle against harmful diets and medical procedures deceptively employed for profit. Dr Barrett discloses companies, individuals, websites, and products that ascribe miraculous properties to acupuncture, chiropractic healing, super-DHEA, Calorad, gingko, herbal weight-loss tea, iridology, macrobiotics, magnetotherapy, super-melatonin, orthomolecular therapy, psychic practices, etc. 
  • Skeptic Friends Network
  • Skeptic Planet - skeptic sites search engine. A search for homeopathy yields 500 articles, astrology 900, while creationism 2000 (Aug 3, 2003)
  • Anti-quackery - collection of anti-quackery links
  • Stephen Lower on Pseudoscience
  • CSICOP - Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
  • BBC Horizon takes on homeopathy - BBC Horizon fails to win James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge with a scientific experiment that failed to prove that homeopathy actually works
  • Talk Origins - a collection of articles contesting intelligent design theories in response to a related Talk Origins Usenet newsgroup with unrestricted discussion forum
  • Truth or Fiction - anti-rumor website
  • Logical Fallacies - definitions and examples of logical fallacies that underlie most myths, rumors, and superstitions
  • More links from Randi's JREF
  • Skeptical Information Links - 532 links to skeptical websites (Aug 3, 2003)

What is not myth?

Sometimes I receive requests for the evaluation of legitimate learning methods. I will only shortly list here the keywords that are worth studying and that are legitimate! You will find plenty of information about these on the net. 

Legitimate concepts and authors that might be misunderstood at best and dismissed at worst receive our stamp of approval: mind maps, Mega Memory (never mind Kevin Trudeau's reputation), mnemonic techniques, peg-list system, loci method, Mind Manager, ThinkFAST, Tony Buzan, Sebastian Leitner, expanded rehearsal, reactivation theory, SAFMEDS, bright-light therapy, chronotherapy, melatonin, neurogenesis in adulthood, brain growth through training, neural compensation (e.g. in brain damage), and physical exercise as a brain booster.  
See also:

Apology (March 2005)

I have received mail that the passage about American beliefs on the age of the Earth may be considered offensive. It is not my intent to offend anyone. I believe that stating facts of science resolutely is an obligation of anyone involved in myth-busting. Unlike far blunter James Randi, who I admire immensely, I try to use a gentler language. If submitted, I am ready to accept a less offensive rewording of the said passage as long as it plainly expresses my belief that most rudimentary scientific consensus leaves no place for infinite memory or young earth. In addition, the passage must include most telling data on how basic science remains little understood by a vast proportion of population in industrialized nations of which the US is probably the best example of contrast. You can leave your comments at SuperMemo Wiki

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