Friday, December 19, 2014

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

Is memory just a game?

The ability to remember has been prized by our civilization for ages. Ancient poets recited epic tales from memory. Priests and priestesses performed religious rites unaided. Guides led travelers without maps. Hunters and gatherers remembered when and where to find the food. In more recent times, stage actors remembered all the lines of plays, and classical musicians remembered all the notes to fixed compositions without sheet music. Today, champions on the game show Jeopardy are those who can recall facts faster than their competitors. 

According to journalist Joshua Foer in Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, our heavy reliance on written text and video recordings has cut into our ability to remember people, facts, events, and other information unaided. Not cluttering our brains with unessential memories has contributed to our technical and cultural advances and having static records gives us assurances of truth, but we may still be losing something.

Foer became fascinated by the subject of memory having reported on national memory games, competitions that bring together men and women who can quickly memorize the order of a pack of playing cards, strings of random numbers, grocery lists, poems to recite, and names with faces. Upon getting to know several of the champions, some of whom have written books on their techniques, Foer joined their racks and trained for the U. S. Memory Championship.

In Moonwalking with Einstein, Foer recounts his year of training, describes the experts with whom he studies, and reports on brain science. The book is an entertaining mixture of intellectual musings, sports reporting, and memoir with some memory tips thrown in. You, too, could become a memory champ.

Foer, Joshua. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Penguin Press, 2011. 307p. ISBN 9781594202292.

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