Have you thought about something, turned your head and SNAP, your mind just goes blank at the next instant. If this sounds familiar to you, then “Moonwalking with Einstein” will bring you new insights about your internal memory.
Written by science and tech journalist Joshua Foer, this book extensively discusses about the art and science of remembering.
Warning: This is not a self-help book and will not instruct you to improve your memory. Rather, this book should be treated as an intriguing piece of investigative journalistic work, where history, research, interviews and Foer’s personal experiences get mashed up in its narrative.
Initially assigned to cover memory competitions, Foer grew increasingly fascinated after hearing repeatedly from numerous memory champions that anyone could boost their memory.
“It’s all about technique and understanding how the memory works,” Ben Pridmore, a World Memory Champion said in a newspaper interview. “Anyone could do it, really.”
Such bold claims not only kick-start Foer’s journey into memory sports but also got me suckered into the finishing the book.
Alright, I admit to relying heavily on my electronic devices as an external memory to remind me about the “nitty-gritty details” in my daily life. I need my iPhone to store all my contacts because I can barely recall beyond five telephone numbers, Facebook to remind me about my friends’ birthdays and my camera to record visual copies of my holiday trips.
“As more and more of our lives move online, more and more is being captured and preserved in ways that are dramatically changing the relationship between our internal and external memories,” Foer wrote.
This book strongly juxtaposes against our modern behavior, advocating for us to rely on our notoriously unreliable internal memory.
Foer proves this point by using his own brains as an experiment and also training grounds to gear up for the 2006 U.S. Memory Competition in under a year’s time and he was dead-pan serious about what he did. Picture a grown-up man wearing industrial-grade earmuffs and black safety goggles with two small eyeholes, hunching and staring intensely at pages of random numbers in the basement of a house. Reading about his trainings were at times laughable but his spirit is definitely admirable.
Yet his seriousness did prove one thing in the end – our memories are improvable.
“The goal of training one’s memory was to develop the capacity to leap from topic to topic and make new connections between old ideas,” Foer wrote.
One of the many tricks mentioned to boost your memory is to develop the capacity to quickly create multisensory images that will link disparate ideas. In fact, conjuring dirty images or funny jokes will better lock the memory as compared to sheer rote memorization.
And amongst the memorization techniques mentioned, I was surprised to find out that I have been taught in elementary school one of them. The image below is an example of it: Mind mapping is a memory technique commonly linked with mnemonist Tony Buzan to create various associative hooks to help sink in images of a particular concept.
Towards the end of the book, Foer concludes in a very simple manner,
“Now more than ever, as the role of memory in our culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are.”
As true as his words are, as I finish up the last words of the book, I realized I have already forgotten the earlier contents that I have read.
Time to work on my memory.