Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingMoonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moonwalking With Einstein chronicles the journey of Joshua Foer as he goes from observer on assignment to participant in the U.S. Memory Championships. It takes him one year to prepare for the big event and he has much help along the way from memory experts who claim that anyone can master these feats (memorizing several decks of cards, strings of numbers, names and faces, etc) using ancient memory techniques.

I have to admit I was drawn to this book because I feel like I often forget EVERYTHING! I didn't feel like such a dunce after I discovered a chart in the beginning of the book that says the average person forgets information quite quickly, about 50% after an hour and so on until a month later only a fraction of the information seems to be easily accessible. Our current reliance on a multitude of "external memory" devices, i.e. books, pencils and paper, and phones that remember telephone numbers, is the main problem. We just don't have to remember much in our heads anymore.

Foer has done a tremendous amount of research in this book covering some very eccentric characters including Kim Peek, the original Rainman, Daniel Temmet, a probable savant who can do some crazy memory stuff and Ben Pridmore who can memorize 1,528 in order in an hour and the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards in 33 seconds. During his year of training, Foer utilizes such techniques as the "memory palace" - basically a place you can walk through in your mind, placing the things you want to remember in different areas. The key is to imagineitems that you want to remember in unforgettable detail using all the senses you can. I did this on a very simple level and it works!

However, even after rigorously training for the memory championships, Foer says he still has trouble remembering everyday things and questions the usefulness of knowing how to memorize strings of numbers. But I do like the way he describes what he DID learn from this experiment,

How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember . . . no lasting joke, invention, insight or work of art was ever produced by an external memory . . . as the role of memory in our culture erodes faster than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember. Our memories are the seat of our values and the source of our character.

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