I’ve just finished reading an interesting book about memory and mnemonic techniques. I came across Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer while listening to an episode of Adam Grant’s podcast – Work/Life where Joshua Foer was a guest speaker.
“For much of human history, remembering was the key to retaining accumulated knowledge and wisdom. The invention of printing..”
Moonwalking with Einstein chronicles Joshua Foer’s journey as an average person who like many of us forget where we place things such as car keys, or names of strangers we just met; to becoming the U.S. Memory Champion who is selected become a member of an elitist global mnemonic club named KL7. The author is a young journalist who at first covered the U.S. memory championship as a story and discovered that many of the Mental Athletes were ordinary people with average memory capabilities and mediocre IQ’s. He decided to try all of the memory improvement techniques himself but remained skeptical and objective while embarking on his journey. He continues his research on the subject describing encounters and interviews with people who have an extraordinarily good memory and amnesiacs.
Foer delves into the science behind memory, the history of memory and how we have used or ignored it over the years. He elicits the depleting level of reliance we as a society have placed on our memory over the years. Illustrating the times before written words exploded onto manuscripts when mankind had no choice but to rely on only memories to pass on wisdom and knowledge. In today’s age technology has made us reliant on the internet, mobile phones and journals, leaving us with no need to remember anything. The science of memory is also brought up with quite touching chapters written from Joshua meeting a savant who had suffered brain damage, leaving him with a superior memory but at a severe cost and a man who was unable to create new memories but who’s blissful ignorance kept him as happy as could be.
This book truly makes you think deeply about your brain, about your memory capabilities. Foer’s story is relatable. He’s a regular guy who forgets routine things; The book makes you think seriously about the limits and capacity of your mind. With intense daily effort, anyone could feasibly memorize all the U.S. presidents or Kings and Queens of England and retain them for recall. Or, through some terrible tragic chance, I could lose the ability to remember anything. I’m not about to commit to a year-long journey and start training as Foer did, but his book was an enjoyable and informative glance at what’s possible.