Book Review: Moonwalking with Einstein - by Joshua Foer


A journalist sent to cover a memory championship, adopts memory techniques and wins the championship himself the following year. As someone who doesn’t “see” anything in my head, the basic technique of visualising things and building a “memory palace” doesn’t work, but there is still a lot of great stuff in the book.

My notes

Schools go about teaching all wrong. They pour vast amounts of information into students’ heads, but don’t teach them how to retain it.

What I had really trained my brain to do, as much as to memorize, was to be more mindful, and to pay attention to the world around me. Remembering can only happen if you decide to take notice.

When we forget the name of a new acquaintance, it’s because we’re too busy thinking about what we’re going to say next, instead of paying attention.

From the vast amounts of data pouring in through the senses, our brains must quickly sift out which information is likely to have some bearing on the future, attend to that, and ignore the noise.

Experts see the world differently. They notice things that nonexperts don’t see.

If every sensation or thought was immediately filed away in the enormous database that is our long-term memory, we’d be drowning in irrelevant information.

Chunking is a way to decrease the number of items you have to remember by increasing the size of each item.

We don’t remember isolated facts; we remember things in context.

Three stages that anyone goes through when acquiring a new skill.

  1. “cognitive stage” you’re intellectualizing the task and discovering new strategies to accomplish it more proficiently.
  2. “associative stage,” you’re concentrating less, making fewer major errors, and generally becoming more efficient.
  3. “autonomous stage,” when you figure that you’ve gotten as good as you need to get at the task and you’re basically running on autopilot.

Regular practice isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.

The best way to get out of the autonomous stage and off the OK plateau is to actually practice failing.

The more we pack our lives with memories, the slower time seems to fly.

You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one.

It’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories.

Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

In youth we may have an absolutely new experience, subjective or objective, every hour of the day.

Life seems to speed up as we get older because life gets less memorable.

Each time we think about a memory, we integrate it more deeply into our web of other memories, and therefore make it more stable and less likely to be dislodged.

If something is going to be made memorable, it has to be dwelled upon, repeated.

The brain best remembers things that are repeated, rhythmic, rhyming, structured, and above all easily visualized.

If you can turn a set of words into a jingle, they can become exceedingly difficult to knock out of your head.