How would your science change if you had better memory? From cool ways to impress your fellow researchers by reciting the periodic table, to remembering pesky protein cascades, to memorizing speeches so that you don’t have to read off of a powerpoint, it seems that improving memory would be useful. However, while many of us are accomplished, few of us would probably classify ourselves as having excellent recall. I certainly am not and have problems remembering…[insert here].

However, one man has demonstrated that even those of us with average memory can become quite excellent at recall.

moonwalking-with-einsteinHow it started

Journalist Joshua Foer was at the 2005 U.S. Memory Championship doing research for a piece he was going to write on the competitors. During his interviews he asked what it would take for someone like him – an average man with an average memory, to train for that very same competition, when he was challenged to do exactly that: train to participate at the 2006 U.S. Memory Championship. He took the challenge and hooked up with an English mnemonic master that was eager to share his knowledge about memorization techniques.

Journey from average to excellent memory

In his book, Moonwalking With Einstein, Joshua Foer guides you through his journey from merely writing about the U.S. Memory Championship to actually winning it one year later. He describes thoroughly, engaging and with wit the techniques he uses. He explains the history and research behind methods including photographic memory, rote, mind mapping and the technique he uses the most, the memory palace. The latter technique emphasizes that memory is not only about just having a good memory, but the importance of an uninhibited creativity and profound focus. He humorously introduces the reader to several of his extraordinary images reminding us that people so much better remember images over words and numbers. Through these techniques he learns that all of us can improve our memories.

On his search to try to understand why some people remember more than others he meets several people from “the man who remember too much” to “the most forgetful man in the world”. In Moonwalking With Einstein he vividly describes the people he meets and presents them with admiration and with a critical eye. He interviews top mnemonic’s, people with Asperger’s syndrome, scholars and people that make a lot of money from teaching others about memorization methods.

Not only is Moonwalking With Einstein an interesting fact based documentary about the research and the people behind remembering and memorization techniques, but it is also an intimate and personal story about the author’s objectives, feelings and achievements to reach his goals. Joshua Foer manages to feed the reader with just enough facts to make it scientifically interesting before continuing with his personal journey…

In future blog posts I will cover some of the techniques he is describing in this book.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you have read a similar book that you will recommend or if you use or know of memorization techniques that can be useful for others.

Enjoy this talk where Joshua Foer presents Moonwalking With Einstein and introduces how he uses the memory palace.