Posts Tagged ‘mnemonist’

Moonwalking with Einstein: the Bottom Line

April 13, 2011

The preceding five blog posts have been based on Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1. This book relates an extraordinary example of participatory journalism in which the author trained himself in mnemonic techniques to the point where he was able to compete at the World Championship level. Historically humans have developed extraordinary memorization skills. With advances in technology, these skills have diminished as increasingly reliance is placed on external memory storage (transactive memory). The question is whether this heavy reliance upon external sources of memory is mistaken.

Foer explores this question in the Epilogue. One of the first decisions that confronted Foer was whether he wanted to continue to compete in national and world memory competitions. Given the extraordinary speed of his memory accomplishments, he did have the prospect of becoming a world champion. He had the option of a career change and become a professional mnemonist who would not only compete, but give exhibitions, provide training, write books and develop courses for memory improvement. He admits that his competitive instincts had been whetted and that this option was quite tempting. However, he decided against this, because of the time commitment required, and his desire to work primarily as a journalist.

So, was it all worth it? He tells of an incident when he met his friends for dinner that occurred after he had become an accomplished mnemonist. He returned home via metro and only then realized that he had driven to the restaurant! But he does understand why this happened (he failed to attend) and how it could have been avoided (to have paid attention). Even though he knows how to commit phone numbers to memory, he still finds it easier just to punch them into his cell phone. The following is a direct quote from the Epilogue. “The most important lesson I took away from my year on the competitive memory circuit was not the secret to learning poetry by heart, but rather something far more global and, in a way, far more likely to be of service in my life. My experience had validated the old saw that practice makes perfect. But only if it’s the right kind of concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate practice. I’d learned firsthand that with focus, motivation, and, above all, time, the mind can be trained to do extraordinary things.”

So, what is the importance of our own internal memories? To quote from the Epilogue again. “How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember. We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually altering those habits, which is to say the networks of our memory. No lasting joke, invention, insight, or work of art was ever produced by an external memory.” And later, “Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture. All these essential human acts depend on memory. 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 our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are.”

Moonwalking with Einstein is an outstanding read. I have not done it justice. I highly recommend it.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Harry Lorayne: Ageless Mnemonist

March 29, 2010

I was most pleased to come across Harry Lorayne’s book, Ageless Memory: Simple Secrets for Keeping Your Brain Young. Harry Lorayne is probably the foremost mnemonist and advocate of mnemonic techniques. Mnemonic techniques are techniques designed for improving memory. A mnemonist is an expert practitioner of mnemonic techniques. He has demonstrated fantastic memory feats on television and throughout the world. The Book of Genius (Stanley Paul Publishers, 1994) discusses his record of having met and remembered the names and faces of more than 7,500,00 people. He has written many books on memory techniques, the best known being probably being the best seller that he wrote with basketball great, Jerry Lucas, The Memory Book. Ageless Memory discusses most, if not all, of the techniques in The Memory Book, plus a few more. There is a chapter that applies mnemonic techniques to computer tasks. Each chapter includes a “Special Mind-Power” Exercise.

Lorayne provides two reasons for using these techniques. One is the most obvious one, they can improve your memory. The second is that using these techniques can keep your memory healthy and young. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog will recognize that one of the themes of this blog is devoted to memory techniques, and the justification for this theme is the same as Harry Lorayne’s. They will not only improve your memory, but they should also foster brain health and keep your brain young as you age. There is also reason to think that you can improve your memory as you age, so that it is better than you were young.

Healthymemory Blog has three themes. One theme is titled “Human Memory: Theory and Data.” This theme presents data on human memory documenting its fallibility. Your memory was probably never as good as you thought it was. It is important to have a good understanding of memory so that you can be aware of its shortcomings and biases so that you are able to compensate for these shortcomings and biases and to take remedial action.

The second theme is mnemonic techniques, that we have already discussed. Here you can find a wide variety of techniques that not only will improve memory, but will also foster brain health.

The third theme is transactive memory which explores how both technology and fellow humans can aid and enhance memory.

The blog postings under these categories can be found along the sidebar. If you cannot see these categories along the sidebar, type into the URL space for your browser and hit enter.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.