Prior to World War II half of all Americans lived in rural communities, without electricity or running water; and most of us youngsters attended one-room schoolhouses. There were not many books anywhere. Those books that existed were treasured and shared and frequently discussed at home and among friends — and frequently by us young ones while trudging to and from school.

Today we have books, photographs and computers and a host of devices to help us store information and memories outside our brains; this is a radical change from most of human history — when our existence and cultures depended on individual memories. Essentially all our ancestors needed to know for survival was the location of food sources, and which foods and creatures were hazardous.

This writer grew up in a rural community where it was only through memorizing and analyzing that ideas could be incorporated into one’s mind and evaluated. It was after surviving WW II and attending college that I learned how fundamental ideas and texts were incorporated into brains in early Greece and a few other civilized areas. They invented techniques that became known as the art of memory — which reasoned about everything that could be imprinted upon our memories, kept organized and recalled when desired.

For most of the past 2,000 years, memory training was the center of classical education. In a world with few books, memory was essential. Remember, prior to printing in the 14th century, books were handwritten; and probably there were never more than several dozen copies of any book in existence. Therefore it was essential to remember what you read. All scholars were walking indexes of everything worthwhile they read or learned. It was accepted if anything was to be memorable, it was to be frequently reexamined and possibly revised.

When people only had access to a few books they tended to read intensely and devote attention to remembering what they read, and they specifically made an effort to maintain substantive ideas to keep them from fading.

Our natural memory is what we are born with; it is associated with thinking and understanding. The supporting memory is a learned technique strengthened by training, discipline and technology.

Increasingly we are learning that natural memory is not ideally suitable for our evolving information age. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors and most of my rural neighbors lived in relatively small, stable groups; they did not have to drive automobiles, program computers or figure out how to get through the Atlanta airport. What we need to do is to learn how to more effectively handle the kinds of memories our brains aren’t very good at handling and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains evolved for.

Learning to play a musical instrument or fly is a cumulative way to achieve a new skill. In early phases we must discover new ways to avoid errors and become more efficient. We learn the more we can accomplish repetitious tasks routinely, the more we can concentrate on handling the probabilities on what matters — like diving on Japanese carriers at Midway, or making a landing on the moon. It seems that as we learned more complex tasks, parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning became less active and other parts of the brain took over — that can be pretty thrilling.

For more than eight decades I have enjoyed my association with interesting people and top achievers, all of whom seem to portray the same general patterns of thought. These people have developed strategies to focus on techniques that allow them to concentrate on improving understanding of many things and to seek potential interrelations between subjects. We learn to improve our understanding by constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie. This is possible by frequently analyzing what we are doing, and comparing our past experiences with new perspectives. We need to focus and deliberate. This is accomplished by analyzing new or refined data and analyzing images already in our memory — and there is a feeling of a new revelation.

More and more it becomes apparent peripheral distractions are overwhelmingly competing for our attention. Almost every store is playing loud incomprehensible music (noise) and usually waiting rooms have several televisions on at a high volume. Fortunately I can turn off my hearing aids — and I seldom have a TV on at home.

As I approach maturity I find my brain is not as reliable as it used to be. It is not as reliable in automatically finding data when I want to refer to something I know that I knew. However, I have learned that exercise boosts brain power. According to a National Academy study, a year of modest exercise reverses normal brain shrinkage by one or two years in older adults. It seems that as people age, the hippocampus — the brain’s memory center — loses 1 to 2 percent of its volume annually, which can increase the risk of dementia. The study concluded that walking and aerobic exercise can not only retain, but can improve memory performance.

Within a generation humans will accelerate interrelation with artificial intelligence devices to better emulate whatever it is our brains do when they create consciousness. There is good cause to think that computers will become as intelligent as we are; and they will extend our intellectual abilities the same way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe our artificial intelligence will help treat the effects of old age and prolong our life. If events turn out that way, it will be the most important thing to happen to humans since the invention of language.

Increasingly biotechnology and nanotechnology will provide the capability to manipulate both our bodies and the world around us; and the probability is that the human genome will become optimized — and life extension for everyone will become a potential reality.

Five years ago we didn’t have 600 million humans readily communicating with each other over a single electronic network. Now we have Facebook and iPhones. Cell phones are about a millionth the price, a millionth the size and a thousand times more powerful than computers available at MIT 40 years ago.

Therefore it is essential for everyone to continually improve the function of their brain, as well improve their interface with our evolving artificial intelligence — as we continue to create superhuman intelligence — human history is about to venture into a dynamic future. Keep in touch!

Dr. Lloyd V. Stover is an environmental scientist. Approaching maturity, he enjoys keeping abreast with ideas and experiences which may improve the quality of life of humans, and well as the planet. He may be reached by e-mail at: