Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book review: Moonwalking with Einstein

I'm not sure how many times over the past few years you learn something that makes you question your basic education.

For example, I like to argue, but I never studied rhetoric til recently.

I work in groups, but never learned the keys to making groups work well. Like cross-referencing.

I also try to remember things all the time, but never learned how to remember. I often say my mind is like a steel sieve.

On Joe Fargione's recommendation, I read Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein.

The book itself is "participatory journalism" by the author as he trains for the US Memory Championship.

It's a quick, fun read.

Of the interesting parts of the book, I felt like I was familiar with "memory palaces"--esssentially transforming items on a list into objects that can be placed in a remembered landscape--but I never tried them out.

That trick (and others) people have used for thousands of years to remember lists.

Essentially, you take an item on the list, picture it in vivid details with multiple clues to help you remember it and then place it on a landscape that you know. Like your home.

Then you just walk through the place and see the items that are there.

One character in the book demonstrated this to the author by giving him 15 random items to memorize.

As I read, I tried the same thing.

Item#1 (pickled garlic): At the base of my driveway, I put a 6-foot jar of pickles and garlic with a vampire on it.

Item #2 (cottage cheese): on the porch, i put a kidde pool of cottage cheese with a small house to remember that it was cottage cheese...

I did this for all 15 items.

Right now, I'll try to remember the list that I tried to commit to memory a week ago.

A week later, I can walk from my old driveway to the backyard and see:

pickled garlic
cottage cheese
peat-smoked salmon
6 bottles of white wine
3 pairs of socks
3 hula hoops
scuba gear
dry ice machine
email sophia
Paul Newman's Somebody up there likes me
elk sausage
directors chair and megaphone

Darn. That's only 14.

I just looked back at the list and forgot that at the bottom of the stairs was a skin-toned cat suit. That was supposed to come after email sophia. Must have stepped over it.

Also it was a snorkel, not scuba gear, and a harness and ropes, not just a harness.

Not bad, though.

Apparently, we are much better at remembering places than odd collections of items/tasks/feelings.

Placing items in a remembered landscape is one way to aid recollection.

There are other tricks, too, that I haven't tried. Like for remembering long strings of digits.

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