Steve brings up the fact that there is a trend in Indian culture toward memorizing stuff as a way of showing off one’s intellect. This seems plausible. But, I think a bigger point might be that rote learning and feats of memory have traditionally been more important in human history than they are now, and Western societies in particular are on the cutting edge on placing more of an emphasis on creative original thinking which illustrates the ability to reconstitute concepts into a novel synthesis as opposed to regurgitating ancient forms. In fact before the printing press made books much more common there was a whole field termed the Art of Memory in the West.
Note: I would also add that memory has different utility in different fields. Physicists who I’ve known seem to be rather slack about memorization, but then their field is one where theory is robust enough to generate useful inferences. In some ways the rise of mathematical science is the story of the decline of memory.
Labels: intellectual history