Moonwalking With Einstein x Joshua Foer

Joshua Foer writes a fascinating tale about how far one can stretch the ability for our minds to remember – and just how useful is such an advanced memory.


The distribution of memory capabilities in the human brain is not disperse. While an individual may be better than another at memorizing names or the location of their car keys, their ultimate memory capabilities are not far off.

We all have the capability of mutating our brain – within limits –  readapting new sensory inputs to process information differently.

Memories are a reminder of our own existence. Living in the moment requires working memory of the moment. Can an experience that is forgotten be said to ever have existed? An ultimately pointless nuance to the question, “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”

“If memory is our means of preserving that which we consider most valuable, it is also painfully linked to our own transience.”

Phonological Loop – the little voice we hear inside our head when we talk to ourselves.

We don’t remember isolated facts, we remember things in context. At the same time, our unconscious mind can remember events and details we do not actively remember in context.

“Expertise is vast amounts of knowledge, pattern-based retrieval, and planning mechanisms acquired over many years of experience in the associated domain” –Anders Ericsson

Having a great memory – remembering failures, receiving feedback, and implementing new techniques – is one of the primary separator between experts and amateurs.

The more bizarre, lewd, or funny an experience, the better the mind will remember. If you spend your days sitting in a cubicle working expense reports, days will blend together into an unrecognizable week, month, or year.

As discussed in depth in Blink x Malcolm Galdwell, our unconscious remembering is known as priming

The brain has an easier time remembering funny conversations, bizarre experiences, and risqué depictions. This may be a reason the day-to-day operations of a cubicle worker can blend together so seamlessly while a sports player can accurately recite plays from years back.

In terms of remembering, the words themselves are nearly useless. Our brain filters out the word and interprets the idea, action, or feeling. Words are the avenue to delivering meaning.

Ever wonder why you can recite a song nearly word-for-word that you haven’t heard in years? The brain remembers words and rhythms that are easily repeated, structured, and rhyme.

Until the last few centuries, a books primary tool was used for memory aid. Many of the classics were first told orally; a books purpose was to document stories for easy recitation.

How you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend.

“Either walk with our glory and rise to the top with us, or step aside. For when we get to the top, we will reach back and raise you up with us.”

Mind Mapping – drawing lines off main points to subsidiary points, which branch out further to tertiary points, and so on. Ideas are distilled into as few words as possible and whenever possible are illustrated with images.

Facts by themselves do not lead to understanding.

“The more tightly and new piece of info can be embedded into the web of information we already know, the more likely it is to be remembered. People who have more associations to hand their memories on are more likely to remember new things., which in turn means they will know more, and be able to learn more. The more we remember, the better we are at processing the world. And the better we are at processing the world, the more we can remember about it.”

“For all the memory stunts I could no perform, I was still stuck with the same old shoddy memory that misplaced car keys and cars. Even while I had greatly expanded my powers of recall for the kinds of structured information that could be crammed into a memory palace, most of the things I wanted to remember in my everyday life were not facts or figures or poems or playing cards or binary digits.”

Information that cannot be neatly structured and placed in a memory palace will continue to prove difficult to recall regardless of how advance your image recollection is.

Remembering is a mindfulness practice

“I’m convinced that remembering more is only the most obvious benefit of the many months I spent training my memory. 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 happene if you decide to take notice.”

“How to perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember. We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually altering those habits, which is to say the networks of our memory.”