2013 Book Thoughts –> “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer

This book was so completely fascinating. I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot from it. I am not usually a bestseller reader. Not that I have anything against them, just that I am not usually drawn to them. The subtitle of the book, “The Art and Science of Remembering Everything”, is helpful, because we don’t find out why the book is titled “Moonwalking with Einstein” until near the end of the book. In fact, I called the book “Moonlighting with Einstein” several times by mistake before understanding why the book was titled as it is. I was picturing him learning this new information on the side of whatever his real job was (“moonlighting”), from someone very smart (you know, an “Einstein”). This turned out to be almost entirely incorrect.

The book is told as a narrative, a year of the author’s life, and Foer weaves all the data-type information into the story. It is very well written, in my opinion. The story keeps it from sounding like a lecture or a textbook, and does a good job of hooking the reader in to see what happens next as much as to learn more about memory.

I’ll not summarize the memory techniques, as I’m sure than can be easily googled, and because I recommend learning them through reading the book just because its a fun experience, but I will say a few things.

When Foer introduces his first technique, he presents a list of items, asks the reader to read the list, then to close the book and remember as many as possible. The list is as follows:

Pickled garlic
Cottage cheese
Salmon (peat-smoked if poss.)
Six bottles of white wine
Socks (X3)
Three hula hoops (spare?)
Dry ice machine
E-mail Sophia
Skin-toned cat suit
Find Paul Newman film–Somebody up there likes me
Elk Sausages??
Megaphone and director’s chair
Harness and ropes

Go ahead. Try it now. Look away from the computer and try. It will make this more fun.

I don’t remember how many I could retain when I first tried, but I know it was sadly few. Then he walks us through the exercise he was first introduced though, encouraging the reader to play along; which I was a good sport and did, then asks the reader to close the book and try again. I remembered every item, in order. The next day, telling my husband about it, I remembered every item, in order, without opening the book. Then I wrote a list of things my kids understood (pillows, Daddy, mushrooms, umbrella, etc) ten items long and tried the exercise on them. The 5-year-old remembered 9 of the 10, in order, and the 6-year-old remembered all 10, in order. Here is the list again from above, as I tried to write it from memory just now, over a month since trying to memorize it. I’ve listed the real item first, the same as above, then asterisks, then my attempt from today to remember:

Pickled garlic ** Pickled onions
Cottage cheese ** Cottage cheese
Salmon (peat-smoked if poss.) ** Peat-smoked salmon
Six bottles of white wine ** 4 bottles of white wine
Socks (X3) ** 3 pairs of socks
Three hula hoops (spare?) ** Hula hoops
Snorkel ** Mask and snorkel
Dry ice machine ** ?? (I know there’s something here…)
E-mail Sophia ** Email Sophia
Skin-toned cat suit ** Skin-toned cat suit
Find Paul Newman film– Somebody up there likes me** Paul Newman film
Elk Sausages?? ** Elk sausages
Megaphone and director’s chair ** Director’s chair and megaphone
Harness and ropes ** Climbing rope and harness
Barometer ** Barometer

Surely had I reviewed the list even once a week I still would have it entirely correct. Totally fascinating to me.

There were other techniques in the books I tried with success as well. All of it includes visualizing images. The author states that we remember pictures more so than words or numbers (I’m oversimplifying).

Something interesting I found was that if I was visualizing something similar to something else I had visualized, they were easily confused. For example, I used my new tricks to remember where we had left off in our audiobook. Our family is listening to Pinocchio, and for some odd reason (that is actually very inconvenient), my phone does not save where we stop in the book. So when I go back I have to scan to where we left off. Which means I have to remember where we left off. I would normally need to write this down, but with confidence in my new skills, I pictured Pinocchio himself throwing up this two wooden arms and the jumping up and throwing out all 4 limbs into a big X. It worked perfectly. Days later, I had no trouble remembering we left off at 00:24. However, after doing this 2 or 3 times, I couldn’t remember which image of Pinocchio was most recent. He had done so much limb throwing and shaping himself into numbers and such, that I could no longer use those images to remember. I now need to write it down again. I’m sure I could find another way to make it visual if I tried, it’s just very interesting to me that this will work in a more straightforward way for some things than with others.

I have also had great success using techniques from the book for remembering people’s names, but I have found it to be very funny that I need to look at a person for several seconds while figuring out a way to connect their name to an image. Hopefully I have been pulling this off in a way that is not creepy… but sometimes I wonder.

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One Response to 2013 Book Thoughts –> “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer

  1. Pingback: 2013 Book Thoughts –> “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg | stickyloaves

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