Moonwalking With Einstein

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The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

by Joshua Foer – In 2006, Foer won the U.S.A. Memory Championship, and set a new USA record in the “speed cards” event by memorizing a deck of 52 cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds.

A good read but does not fully live up to its subtitle.  This is a nonfiction tale that follows Josh along his journey to become a Memory Champion.  But it is not about the Science of Remembering everything.  There is an art & a sport and that is really what this telling is all about.

Before paper, there was only the oral tradition.  When paper came along, the written tradition started. Monks copied one book to make another book. Before Gutenberg, books were rare and memorization was critical. Now we have smart devices which allow real time searching for answers.  The skill and talent for rote memorization is less critical.

The book chronicles Josh’s Memory Championship Quest.  The USA Memory Championship features several esoteric qualifying events that include the memorizing the order of deck of cards, random number recall, random word recall, and poem memorization. Qualifying events lead to the championship round. The events include Three Strikes and Your Out & Double Deck of Cards. Training is mentally challenge. A commitment to the sport is necessary.

The author covers the philosophical history of memory, savants, marketeers, et al.  There are techniques to improve memory recall.  The best description is creative mind mapping, the recall comes from the creation of memory palaces.  Places, faces & activities that are used to reinforce and force the recent memory from short term memory.

There is definitely an Art of Memory. Josh covers this extensively in Moonwalking.  The extensive bibliography lists many sources and resources.  The earliest resource is Rhetorica ad Herennium – the earliest surviving book on rhetoric.

The science of memory is the next frontier. Could it be a final frontier?  Medical scientists are using cutting edge diagnostic devices to observe brain activity.  The author makes mention of using the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation  as a technique that temporarily reveals our on inner savants.

So the quest continues, more research is always in progress.  A distinction remains between memory, thinking and intellect.  All the same brain, but different functions.

The book ends with the author telling of a story that happened to him after winning the 2006 Memory Championship.  He drove to a restaurant to meet some friends for dinner. Then took the subway home, forgetting that he had drove.  Dude, where’s my car?

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One thought on “Moonwalking With Einstein

  1. I read this book about 2 years ago, and agree with you – I did find it interesting, but it didn’t do much in the way of teaching me how to really tap into better memory. That said, I have done a little bit to try out the techniques the memory competitors use.

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