Moonwalking With Einstein

a chess player in Hungary who once played fifty-two simultaneous blindfolded games.

I had once read that the average person squanders about forty days a year compensating for things he or she has forgotten.

he makes a point of eating lots of “brain-healthy” vegetables and fish. “Junk food in: junk brain. Healthy food in: healthy brain,” he said.

The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About a Vast Memory,

We all knew that one, too. In fact, he went through thirty slides, and everyone in the room recognized every single one of the photos we’d seen before.

“We could have done this with ten thousand slides, and you would have performed almost equally well. Your memory for images is that good.”

A researcher shows two people the same photograph of a face and tells one of them that the guy is a baker and the other that his last name is Baker. A couple days later, the researcher shows the same two guys the same photograph and asks for the accompanying word. The person who was told the man’s profession is much more likely to remember it than the person who was given his surname.

Though it’s best not to be born a chicken at all, it is especially bad luck to be born a cockerel.

In Japan, a few superheroes of the industry have learned how to double clutch the chicks and sex them two at a time, at the rate of 1,700 per hour.

When a graduate of the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School looks at a chick’s bottom, finely honed perceptual skills allow the sexer to quickly and automatically gather up a stock of information embedded in the chick’s anatomy,

In fact, later studies confirmed that the ability to memorize board positions is one of the best overall indicators of how good a chess player somebody is.

at a certain point in every chess master’s development, keeping mental track of the pieces on the board becomes such a trivial skill that they can take on several opponents at once, entirely in their heads.

A meaningful relationship between two people cannot sustain itself only in the present tense.

“I’m working on expanding subjective time so that it feels like I live longer,” Ed had mumbled to me on the sidewalk outside the Con Ed headquarters, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. “The idea is to avoid that feeling you have when you get to the end of the year and feel like, where the hell did that go?” “And how are you going to do that?” I asked. “By remembering more. By providing my life with more chronological landmarks. By making myself more aware of time’s passage.” I

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one.

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.

Life seems to speed up as we get older because life gets less memorable as we get older. “If to remember is to be human, then remembering more means being more human,” said Ed.

psychologists make a further distinction between semantic memories, or memories for facts and concepts, and episodic memories, or memories of the experiences of our own lives.

It’s as if things that happened to us become simply things that happened. Or as if, over time, the brain naturally turns episodes into facts.

The principle underlying all memory techniques is that our brains don’t remember all types of information equally well.

Students were taught not just what to remember, but how to remember it.

My first assignment was to begin collecting architecture. Before I could embark on any serious degree of memory training, I first needed a stockpile of memory palaces at my disposal.

Ed, I had already discovered, was always memorizing something. He had long ago learned the bulk of Paradise Lost by heart (at the rate of two hundred lines per hour, he told me), and had been slowly slogging his way through Shakespeare.

“My philosophy of life is that a heroic person should be able to withstand about ten years in solitary confinement without getting terribly annoyed,” he said. “Given that an hour of memorization yields about ten solid minutes of spoken poetry, and those ten minutes have enough content to keep you busy for a full day, I figure you can squeeze at least a day’s fun out of each hour of memorization—if you should ever happen to find yourself in solitary confinement.”

I decided to make memorizing a part of my daily routine. Like flossing. Except I was actually going to do it. Each morning, after waking up and having my coffee, but before reading the newspaper or showering or even putting on proper clothes, I sat down behind my desk and tried to spend ten to fifteen minutes working through a poem.

Next I tried T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a poem I’d always adored, and which I already knew in bits and pieces.

Rhetorica ad Herennium

He explains that learning texts is worth doing not because it’s easy but because it’s hard.

Indeed, the word “topic” comes from the Greek word topos, or place. (The phrase “in the first place” is a vestige from the art of memory.)

In India, an entire class of priests was charged with memorizing the Vedas with perfect fidelity.

Odysseus was always “clever Odysseus.” Dawn was always “rosy-fingered.” Why would someone write like that? Sometimes the epithets seemed completely off-key. Why call the murderer of Agamemnon “blameless Aegisthos”? Why refer to “swift-footed Achilles” even when he was sitting down? Or to “laughing Aphrodite” even when she was in tears?

The brain best remembers things that are repeated, rhythmic, rhyming, structured, and above all easily visualized.

Song is the ultimate structuring device for language.

the reason we teach kids the alphabet in a song and not as twenty-six individual letters.

We don’t speak with spaces. Where one word ends and another begins is a relatively arbitrary linguistic convention.

visualizing the sound waves of someone speaking English, it’s practically impossible to tell where the spaces are,

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. You can’t read a page a minute, the rate at which you’re probably reading this book, and expect to remember what you’ve read for any considerable length of time.

“I don’t tend to look at people’s faces when I talk to them,” he told me. “In fact, I have no idea what lots of people I know really look like.”

He figures that if people’s faces could only be turned into a string of digits, they’d be a cinch to remember.

Benjamin Franklin was apparently an early practitioner of this technique. In his autobiography,

Ericsson suggested I try the same thing with cards. He told me to find a metronome and to try to memorize a card every time it clicked. Once I figured out my limits, he instructed me to set the metronome 10 to 20 percent faster than that and keep trying at the quicker pace until I stopped making mistakes.

This finding leads to a practical application of expertise theory: Ericsson suggests that mammographers regularly be asked to evaluate old cases for which the outcome is already known.

Once a benchmark is deemed breakable, it usually doesn’t take long before someone breaks it.

It was easy enough to explain to people that I was living with my parents to save a few bucks while I cut my teeth as a writer. But what I was doing in their basement, with pages of random numbers taped to the walls and old high school yearbooks (purchased at flea markets) cracked open on the floor, was, if not downright shameful, at least something to lie about.

“We are the very best our community has to offer. We will not get lower than 95 percent on any history exam. We are the vanguard of our people. Either walk with our glory and rise to the top with us, or step aside. For when we get to the top, we will reach back and raise you up with us.”

Because they lacked a detailed internal representation of the game, they couldn’t process the information they were taking in. They didn’t know what was important and what was trivial. They couldn’t remember what mattered. Without a conceptual framework in which to embed what they were learning, they were effectively amnesics.

when students are taught to draw, often the first two exercises they’re made to master are tracing negative space and contour lines. The aim of these exercises is to shut down the top-level conscious processing that can’t see a chair as anything but a chair, and activate the latent, lower-level perceptual processing that sees it only as a collection of abstract shapes and lines.

transcranial magnetic stimulation,

Each home’s kitchen would serve as the repository of an address. Each home’s den would hold a phone number. The master bedroom was for hobbies, the bathroom was for birthdays, and so on.

Take it easy, ignore the opposition, have fun. I’m proud of you already. And remember, girls dig scars and glory lasts forever.”

one last walk through each of my palaces. I was checking, as Ed had once taught me, to make sure all of the windows were open and good afternoon sunlight was streaming in, so that my images would be as clear as possible.