Thursday, January 26, 2012

Required Reading: Moonwalking with Einstein

For many years I have delighted in playing a simple associative memory game with my cousins and my uncle, in which twenty items are randomly picked by someone and myself and my cousins can recite the list backwards and forwards with ease. The last time I was at my uncles house he told me about a book he read called Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer (Jonathan Safron's brother) which talks about the very same technique that I was so fund of and goes further to truly delve into the creative skill of professional memorization. And to us memorization of inane things such as strings of 100's of numbers 0r pages of random names seems like a super-human task, not to mention a serious waste of time. But there is a lot more to the art of memory than simple games and exercises, and even more still than just being able to do well on your next art history exam or organic chemistry test. Rather the study of memorization and the ability attached there to, is a crucial element in information retention. And I leave Joshua Foer to explicitly tell you all about it, because you really should read it. The lost art is both creative and complex and has a wonderful history.

Now for my personal take on the whole thing. A lot of the book is filled with musings about the state of our current lives and how, recently, as human beings we've transitioned from relying upon memorized tales to transmit our histories to writing down basic texts to now relying on the complex external web of collected human intelligence for most of our memories. Now there is no saying that one is right and one is wrong. There is only what has been and what is. What is, is the slow dependence on machines to tell us the things we once memorized so easily. Just think how a photograph holds a single memory in time for us to look at externally whenever we like, that didn't exist 200 years ago (aside: I had to look up when photography was invented because I didn't remember if it was 1 or 2 hundred years ago). But now we have pruned away much of the skill of memory as a general necessity of life and though the likes of socrates would surely rue our fate, there is no saying what lengths this open expanse of mind can be put to.

I personally hope to dedicate all the waking energy of my mind to new episodes of Mob Wives and Jersey Shore.

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