Monday, April 4, 2011

Moonwalking with Einstein

In a rare spur of the moment buy, I picked up Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything from the "Amazon Recommends" suggestions. The title intrigued me, and it seems like my memory has gotten worse over the years, and frankly I'd like to have some of that back... When I was younger I relied a lot on my memory. In college I didn't take notes, I listened and interacted in class. I found that I learned a retained a lot more that way than if I just dutifully copied down everything the professor said. These days I have trouble remembering what we discussed last week, let alone months ago.

The first and most important thing to say about this book is that it is not a self help book. This is not really a how to, but more of a journey. Joshua Foer is a storyteller, a journalist, who got interested in the strange world of memory competitions and spent a year training himself to win the US Memory Championships (he did). Along the way, he discusses some (but not all) of the techniques involved in such things.

The book is very well written. It is engaging and a quick read. Along the way it teaches the reader some of the techniques for improving your memory. I was skeptical, but it does work. I am generally terrible at memorizing things, but I was able to very quickly memorize a long list of cars & lap times using the techniques in the book (I did it just for grins, to see if it really worked).

The disappointing thing to me is that he really doesn't cover how to memorize poetry, which is one aspect of the memory competitions. Poetry to me bears the most similarity to scripture, which is really what I would like to be better at memorizing. I'd also hoped to learn enough techniques to be able to memorize scripture in Greek or Hebrew, something I have found impossible to do.

One of the important aspects of memory that this book demonstrates is that our memories are a bit like muscles, they need to be exercised to work effectively. In a world in which we dump everything that matters onto our iphones, it's easy to start forgetting everything and I don't think that's healthy.

At the end of the book Foer frets about the limited practical applications for improving your memory using the techniques he learned. He relays how after a year of memory training he went to dinner, and after taking the train home realized he had driven to dinner... It is not a cure for being forgetful, but rather a set of tools to remember things that you want to remember.

Although not a perfect book, this is a fantastic introduction to the world of your own memory. The techniques in here really work, and have me intrigued enough to look for other resources on improving my memory.



1 comment:

Diane B said...

I am intrigued...and buying the book