Moonwalking with Einstein | Joshua Foer

Summary of: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
By: Joshua Foer


Step into the world of Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer and discover the art and science behind the extraordinary human memory. Do you often wonder how some people can remember names, facts, or numbers so easily? In this summary, we delve into various strategies and techniques for enhancing memory, including the phonological loop method, chunking, as well as the importance of becoming an expert in the subject area. Be captivated as you explore the intriguing connection between reading and memory decline, and learn how you can use powerful memory aids like elaborative encoding and memory palaces to store and recall all types of information better. Prepare to unlock the immense potential of your mind as you embark on this mind-enhancing journey.

Master Your Memory

Anyone can improve their memory using the phonological loop or by becoming an expert in a particular field. The key is to use memory creatively rather than memorizing by rote.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to have a talent for remembering names or facts? Good news! Improving your memory is not a talent that you’re either born with or without. This book explains the creative use of memory to help you discover your full cognitive potential.

The phonological loop method is one way to improve your memory. The method is simple: repeat the things you need to remember to yourself. In a classic experiment, psychologist K. A. Ericsson and colleague Bill Chase trained an undergraduate named SF with digits, to improve his memory retention. At first, SF could only retain about seven items in his phonological loop. After 250 hours of practice, however, he was able to increase his memory by a factor of 10.

Apart from the phonological loop method, the book cites research on how becoming an expert in a particular field can expand your memory for that field. For example, expert chess players have what’s called “chess memory.” This ability enables them to see the chessboard differently than less experienced players, organizing the board’s individual pieces into larger pieces. By developing this skill, their memory for the game improved dramatically – despite no noticeable difference in their cognitive abilities apart from their chess expertise.

In conclusion, mastering your memory isn’t just about memorizing things by rote. By using your memory creatively, you can unlock your full potential.

Memory Tricks

Our brains can only remember five to nine pieces of information, but we can use chunking and elaborative encoding to improve memory capacity. Chunking means combining information into bigger pieces that are easier to remember. Elaborative encoding is making information as vivid as possible. Using our senses and imagination, we can remember things better. For example, to remember a shopping list of pickles, cottage cheese and salmon, visualize a glass of pickles on a bedside table next to a tub of smelly cottage cheese in which a person is bathing with a salmon.

The Power of Unconscious Memory

In the book summary, the author explores the concept of unconscious memory through the case of an amnesiac named EP. Despite his inability to recall new information, he was able to unconsciously remember words that had been presented to him before. This ability is not unique to EP, as all of us have nondeclarative memories that are stored in our brains, such as those required for tasks like biking or swimming. We also have declarative memories that we actively recall, such as the color of our car. To have a proper working memory, we need to be able to utilize both our nondeclarative and declarative memories.

The Power of Remembering

In earlier times, memorization was an essential skill as it was the only way to pass on knowledge and cultural heritage. The ancient Greeks used minstrels and bards to remember and pass on important myths and tales. The Latin rhetoric textbook Rhetorica ad Herennium authored anonymously between approximately 86 and 82 BC recorded the known methods for expanding memory like elaborative encoding. In pre-book times, having a precise memory was vital, and great figures were often described as people of great memory, too. However, with the mass production of books, the need for memorization dwindled.

Memory and the Rise of Books

The decline in the importance of human memory is intricately linked to the advent of books. Before books, scriptures were used as a reminder of facts already known. Reading was frowned upon, and philosophers like Socrates believed it would lead to forgetfulness and moral decline. However, with the invention of the printing press in 1440, books became more accessible, leading to an increase in reading. As a result, the art of memory declined, and people relied on storing information in books. Nowadays, we heavily rely on external storage like books, the internet, and smartphones, but this has resulted in a vicious cycle of recording and forgetting. Many of us struggle to remember, even though we store information externally.

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