June 18, 2018

Stories, by Steven Pinker

I am fascinated by Steven Pinker’s example of how humans remember things1.

Our brain can hold only about six bits of information in our working memory at once.

M D P H D R S V P C E O I H O P

How many of those letters can you remember immediately after reading them?

If we compress the random letters above into familiar groups, we’re able to remember them all easily:

MD PHD RSVP CEO IHOP

It’s easier to remember them all when they’re condensed into five chunks. But we can do even better:

The MD and the PhD RSVP'd to the CEO of IHOP.

One chunk.

Stories are our competitive advantage as a species. The great storytellers among us can wield outsize power2.


  1. From Sense of Style by Steven Pinker, page 68.

  2. cc/ Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari


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