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Moonwalking With Einstein

Moonwalking_with_einsteinAuthor: Joshua Foer
Title: Moonwalking With Einstein
Published: Mar 3, 2011

Moonwalking With Einstein is about Joshua’s adventure into the world of memory competitions. What started as an assignment to cover the memory championships ended up leading Joshua on a one year journey where he actually trained for and competed in the US Memory Championships himself.

Throughout the book, Joshua describes his interactions with the competitors and the training strategies that allowed him to improve his memory to the point where he could set the US record in speed cards memorizing a shuffled deck in a minute and forty-ish seconds.

The book also goes on to talk about memory training in general and how it’s a lost art as a result of many technological improvements that allow us to be reminded of things (like quotes from a book) at a later date. He delves into the history of memory including how it was used in ancient times and how basic techniques can be applied to everyday life.

Overall, I found the book to be incredibly interesting. While it definitely does cover a handful of specific ways to improve one’s memory, the underlying takeaway for me was that anything can be improved with the right type of practice.

Reading Notes

In other words, when it comes to chunking—and to our memory more broadly—what we already know determines what we’re able to learn.

According to Ericsson, what we call expertise is really just “vast amounts of knowledge, pattern-based retrieval, and planning mechanisms acquired over many years of experience in the associated domain.” In other words, a great memory isn’t just a by-product of expertise; it is the essence of expertise.

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

Life seems to speed up as we get older because life gets less memorable as we get older.

As the early-eighteenth-century Dutch poet Jan Luyken put it, “One book, printed in the Heart’s own wax / Is worth a thousand in the stacks.”

Much of the chaos that our brains filter out is words, because more often than not, the actual language that conveys an idea is just window dressing. What matters is the res, the meaning of those words.

And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them anything, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they will know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellow-men.”

To our memory-bound predecessors, the goal of training one’s memory was not to become a “living book,” but rather a “living concordance,” a walking index of everything one had read, and all the information one had acquired.

When the point of reading is, as it was for Peter of Ravenna, remembering, you approach a text very differently than most of us do today. Now we put a premium on reading quickly and widely, and that breeds a kind of superficiality in our reading, and in what we seek to get out of books.

When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend.

“I don’t use the word ‘memory’ in my class because it’s a bad word in education,” says Matthews. “You make monkeys memorize, whereas education is the ability to retrieve information at will and analyze it. But you can’t have higher-level learning—you can’t analyze—without retrieving information.”

We want to believe that there are Daniel Tammets walking among us, individuals born into this world with extraordinary talents in the face of extraordinary difficulties. It is one of the most inspiring ideas about the human mind. But perhaps Daniel exemplifies an even more inspiring idea: that we all have remarkable capacities asleep inside of us. If only we bothered ourselves to awaken them.

How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember.