Working Memory

There’s some evidence that the size of your working memory — the amount of information that you can actively hold in your head at once — is correlated with intelligence. (See discussion in Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School and the sources cited therein).

“Music of the Spheres,” which will be published in Thomas Carpenter’s anthology, Mirror Shards: Exploring the Edges of Augmented Reality, is about the potential for technology to augment working memory. I actually began this story almost a decade ago, long before I knew anything about the cognitive science on working memory and intelligence. Surprisingly, my conjectures have turned out to be largely right.

But it’s also a story about the meaning of disability.

I’ve been thinking about how we define normality and disability. If some develop a mutation to digest milk as adults, is the inability to digest milk (the state of normality prior to the existence of the mutation) now a disability? If some portion of the population have bodies that can accept augmentation technology while others cannot, are the others now disabled?

How we answer these questions have implications for what we do. And I don’t find them easy.