What is the importance of working memory in cognition and human understanding?

The term “working memory” refers specifically to the persistence of concepts in the conscious integrating space. It is the most sophisticated level of mental tasks, which retro-controls the structure of all its contents. When one of these contents, a specific mental function, works correctly, the intervention of the conscious retro-control is not necessary. We can thus let our gestural automatisms manage on their own, most of the time, and this frees consciousness for other tasks. Working memory is of little importance when a habit is placed at the controls of our behavior. On the other hand, it becomes essential when the conscious retro-control must use several simultaneous criteria to reprogram its underlying structure. Simple example: remembering a phone number. If our working memory is empty after 3 digits, the engraving of the complete number will be difficult. In reality, however, it does not stop so abruptly. It is the excitable trace of the activity of recently used neural networks. Our attention can “forget” an important thing for a few minutes, even a few hours, and then find it. Panic! if it was an emergency; relief, if there is still time to think about it.

You can imagine working memory as a kind of mental Kanban board. With a large table, it is easier to manage the priority and coordination of multiple tasks. However, if you organize to manage sequentially few tasks, a small table is not a handicap. It is still possible to retro-control your unconscious structure effectively using new conceptual schemas. For example during a reading it is not dramatic that your working memory has not stored all that you have just read. This is never the case except for very short texts. The most important thing is that you understand what you are read. This understanding effectively restructures your conceptual pyramid, even if your conscious trace of the operation, in working memory, is very partial.

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