Supercharging your memory

Joshua Foer's account of becoming a world-class memory athlete in the NYTimes seems like the perfect fodder for a short and focused documentary, like Spellbound or Word Wars. It's not surprising that Foer received a huge advance to turn this into a book, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.

Two ideas about memory really struck me. One is that memorizing is an act of creation (emphasis below is mine).

What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Many competitive mnemonists argue that their skills are less a feat of memory than of creativity. For example, one of the most popular techniques used to memorize playing The point of memory techniques to take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t that good at holding onto and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for. cards involves associating every card with an image of a celebrity performing some sort of a ludicrous — and therefore memorable — action on a mundane object. When it comes time to remember the order of a series of cards, those memorized images are shuffled and recombined to form new and unforgettable scenes in the mind’s eye. Using this technique, Ed Cooke showed me how an entire deck can be quickly transformed into a comically surreal, and unforgettable, memory palace.

The second is the idea of memory as not just an act of creation but as one of creating a physical space, like being an architect.

Memory palaces don’t have to be palatial — or even actual buildings. They can be routes through a town or signs of the zodiac or even mythical creatures. They can be big or small, indoors or outdoors, real or imaginary, so long as they are intimately familiar. The four-time U.S. memory champion Scott Hagwood uses luxury homes featured in Architectural Digest to store his memories. Dr. Yip Swee Chooi, the effervescent Malaysian memory champ, used his own body parts to help him memorize the entire 57,000-word Oxford English-Chinese dictionary. In the 15th century, an Italian jurist named Peter of Ravenna is said to have used thousands of memory palaces to store quotations on every important subject, classified alphabetically. When he wished to expound on a given topic, he simply reached into the relevant chamber and pulled out the source.

One concept which you has applications beyond just training your memory is the idea of O.K. plateaus.

Psychologists used to think that O.K. plateaus marked the upper bounds of innate ability. In his 1869 book “Hereditary Genius,