Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Rating: 8/10

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High-Level Thoughts

A fun book about one journalists journey to learn to become a “master of memory” and ultimately win the US memory championship in under a year. It teaches you how to significantly improve your own memory through the story of his journey, making it both highly tactical and a fun read. If you want to learn how to memorize cards, numbers, etc. this book is an excellent guide to follow.

During the experience, he contacted Anders Ericsson to help him with the learning process. Ericsson later wrote Peak, my favorite book on skill mastery, so if you’re more interested in that part then you should read Ericsson’s book.

Summary Notes

Memorizing names: “The trick is actually deceptively simple,” he said. “It is always to associate the sound of a person’s name with something you can clearly imagine. It’s all about creating a vivid image in your mind that anchors your visual memory of the person’s face to a visual memory connected to the person’s name. When you need to reach back and remember the person’s name at some later date, the image you created will simply pop back into your mind

Chunking information into blocks makes it easier to remember: “one hundred” vs “one zero zero”

We don’t remember isolated facts, we remember things in context.

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.

The more we pack our lives with memories, the slower time seems to move. Monotony breeds fast time.

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.

“The general idea with most memory techniques is to change whatever boring thing is being inputted into your memory into something that is so colorful, so exciting, and so different from anything you’ve seen before that you can’t possibly forget it,”

The Ad Herennium advises readers at length about creating the images for one’s memory palace: the funnier, lewder, and more bizarre, the better. “When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvelous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonorable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable, that we are likely to remember for a long time.”

When forming images, it helps to have a dirty mind. Evolution has programmed our brains to find two things particularly interesting, and therefore memorable: jokes and sex—and especially, it seems, jokes about sex.

Cicero agreed that the best way to memorize a speech is point by point, not word by word, by employing memoria rerum. In his De Oratore, he suggests that an orator delivering a speech should make one image for each major topic he wants to cover, and place each of those images at a locus.

Once you feel like you’re “okay” at something, you stop improving (see Peak). To keep improving you have to break through that plateau.

They develop strategies for consciously keeping out of the autonomous stage while they practice by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant and immediate feedback on their performance.

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. (See Peak)

Psychologists have discovered that the most efficient method is to force yourself to type faster than feels comfortable, and to allow yourself to make mistakes.

“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.”“There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.” – Bruce Lee

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