Invention is a product of inventorying

This is so far the most convincing reason for why it is important to commit a lot of (useful) things to memory.

Joshua Foer explains:

Where do new ideas come from if not some alchemical blending of old ideas? In order to invent, one first needed a proper inventory, a bank of existing ideas to drawn on. Not just an inventory but an indexed inventory: to find the right information at the right time.

This is what the art of memory was ultimately useful for.

From Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein

Einstein was wrong about time…

…or, more precisely, the humourists who tried to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity were wrong.

This is what you commonly hear:

When you sit next to a pretty girl for one hour, and it feels like a minute. As opposed to when you sit on a hot stove for one minute, and it feels like an hour. That is relativity.

That’s got nothing to do with the concept of relativity of time as defined by physics. But it’s an example used to explain that time is not constant. The example is used because it turns out that events in our lives do have an effect on our perception of time.

And still that example is not quite that good because it turns out that time with a pretty girl can actually feel like one hour if what you feel is novel enough. Joshua Foer explains:

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That’s why 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.

An experiment where a subject spent two months in an underground cave without access to a clock, calender, or sun helped scientists come to this conclusion. Inside the cave the subject lost perception of time because of his monotonous existence. When he was removed from the cave two months after, according to his self-kept diary he had been inside only for a month.

From Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein

A telling fact about memory

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

Grand masters can react to a complex chess board within seconds, novices can’t. But arrange the pieces randomly (not by the rules of the game) and they perform just as novices do on remembering which pieces were where.

A board of randomly arranged chess pieces has no context—there are no similar boards to compare it to, no past games that it resembles, no ways to meaningfully way of remembering them. Even to the world’s best chess player it is, in essence, noise.

From Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein

What’s the number 7 got to do with our memory?

Apparently a lot.

It turns out that just like a computer has RAM (short-term or working memory), we do too. And in this RAM of our brain we can store 7 discrete things.

Of course, that is an average number. But most people can store 7 plus minus 2 things in their working memory. And just to prove that i am not kidding, close your eyes now and reread the last sentence in your head. Got it? Good. Now close your eyes and try to do the same for the sentence before that. Got it? Well, our working memory is limited.

That is unless you practice to improve it.

From Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein

Best way to remember names

Associate names with a powerful visual image. Reagan with ray guns. Lincoln with chain links. Manmohan with a smiling brain. It can be more powerful if you place this image in your mind at the place you came to know about their name.

Now read on to know why this technique works. Here is the Baker-baker paradox which helped develop the best way of remembering names:

A researcher shows two people the same photograph of a face and tells one of them that the guy is a baker and the other that his last name is Baker. A couple days later, the researcher shows the same two guys the same photograph and asks for the accompanying word. The person who was told the man’s profession is much more likely to remember it than the person who was given his surname.

This happens because:

When you hear that the man in the photo is a baker, that fact gets embedded in a whole network of ideas about what it means to be a baker: He cooks bread, he wears a big white hat, he smells good when he comes home from work. The name Baker, on the other hand, is tethered only to a memory of the person’s face. That link is tenuous, and should it dissolve, the name will float off irretrievably into the netherworld of lost memories. 

From Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein