Russell and Duenes

You Can’t Cook if There’s No Food in the Pantry

with 2 comments

My wife has just finished reading two phenomenal books: The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains and Moonwalking with Einstein. One of the main themes these two books contain, at least from what I’ve gleaned from her recounting them to me, is that we have become a culture that no longer values widespread memorization of anything. We figure since we have the internet at our fingertips, all the information we need is just several clicks away. Why memorize stuff? But as you would expect, the authors claim that the memorization skills of our forebears were not just about having information in one’s mind, but also about how having that information shapes what one’s mind can contemplate and bring forth in human relationships and creativity. If the mind is filled with nothing but meaningless trivia, then guess what’ll be coming out of such a person’s mind and life? As my wife said to me,

I had an analogy myself of wanting to make a cake but not keeping the ingredients on hand.  Proponents of external memory (don’t remember anything, because computers can remember for you) would say “why even have a pantry or refrigerator – you can always go to the supermarket to buy the ingredients if you want to make a cake.” But there’s a cost to that way of living – the cost of time wasted going to get those things (plus the gas).  I think the effects are even more severe in terms of memory, because I think the two places it matters most are in your ability to be creative (you cannot create without materials to create with) and your ability to influence (who finds a person who spends most of their time looking something up to make a point that compelling?)

Who can argue with that? I remember having a conversation with someone once where I tried to convince her that the Bible commanded Christians to memorize Scripture. I brought up, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Ps.119:11) and “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Col.3:16). She was not convinced. But we could add to this Deut. 6:5-9:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6Andthese words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

One cannot “talk” of God’s commands regularly if those commands are not “on the hard drive” of one’s mind, so to speak. One cannot “behold the beauty of the Lord” (Ps.27:4) unless there are spiritual words there to behold. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” In other words, the stuff that’s stored up in one’s heart and mind, the stuff that’s internalized, is the stuff that comes out, that issues forth in our lives and human relationships. We cannot always go and “look it up.” And I think we underestimate what the human mind can contain. As Charles Spurgeon said,

You will not be able to extemporize good thinking unless you have been in the habit of thinking and feeding your mind with abundant and nourishing food. Work hard at every available moment. Store your minds very richly, and then, like merchants with crowded warehouses, you will have goods ready for your customers, and having arranged your good things upon the shelves of your mind, you will be able to hand them down at any time without the laborious process of going to market, sorting, folding, and preparing. . . .  Take it as a rule without exception, that to be able to overflow spontaneously you must be full.


HT: Justin Taylor


Written by Michael Duenes

October 16, 2011 at 8:22 am

2 Responses

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  1. Very good thoughts. I became sick quite some time ago of folks saying things like, “Education shouldn’t just teach you to memorize stuff – I can just look that up! Education should teach you how to think!” Well, it needs to teach you both. Probably even more relevant to medicine than to law.


    October 27, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    • Absolutely right. Indeed, memorization has to come before one can learn how to “think,” for if there’s nothing in the memory bank, what will one think about? Many of my high school students generally did not think well because they had too little to work with, too little to analyze, too little to synthesize, too little to draw on.


      russell and duenes

      October 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm

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