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Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and…

Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi 2011; vuoden 2011 painos)

– tekijä: Joshua Foer (Tekijä)

Sarjat: Van der Leeuw-lezing (2011)

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Having achieved the seemingly unachievable-- becoming a U.S. Memory Champion-- Foer shows how anyone with enough training and determination can achieve mastery of their memory.
Teoksen nimi:Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Kirjailijat:Joshua Foer (Tekijä)
Info:The Penguin Press (2011), Edition: 1st, 320 pages
Kokoelmat:Oma kirjasto
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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 121) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
I've never considered myself to have a good memory. I'll remember places, directions and programming concepts, but can't remember a phone number of the name of someone I just met. This look into the competitive memory circuit around the world helped me put an image in my head of not just what's possible, but how people actually go about remembering 10,000 digits of pi. While I don't plan to exercise this muscle to the extent of people in this book, I do want to try using some of these concepts to put a few names to faces. ( )
  adamfortuna | May 28, 2021 |
A funny and thought-provoking look at the world of memory training. If, like me, you often find yourself unable to remember embarrassingly fundamental details of your daily life, you'll be intrigued by Foer's account of how he, an average dude with an average memory, got involved with the memory training subculture, started using their techniques, and briefly became a US memory champion. Along the way, he interviews people with strong memories, both trained and savant-like, reviews historical treatises on the art of memory, and talks about the ways that memory training both is and isn't helpful.

The official US Memory Championship involves events where you memorize four different types of items: a collection of names and faces, a group of random numbers, the order of a deck of cards, and a poem written specifically for the occasion. Each is just a concentrated and amplified version of techniques that all of us use unconsciously countless times in our daily lives, but everyone has had the sensation of having forgotten the name of someone they met at a party, or where they left their keys, or had some other trivial yet head-slappingly bone-headed instance of forgetfulness. Foer discusses how this much more aware we are of these memory failures in the modern era, where we're surrounded by technology whose job is to correct for our lapses yet engenders a nagging sense of learned helplessness in us - it's certainly reasonable to wonder if the ability to store numbers in a phone means that our ability to remember those numbers unaided is atrophying somehow. Could we train ourselves to remember things better and not have to rely on technology as much?

The answer to that question is complicated. Is memory a skill that can be practiced, or is it an unchangeable innate endowment? Is it more like a muscle or more like a bone? Foer relates some of the techniques he learns - chunk items together, associate items with something else you've already remembered, relate abstract things like numbers to concrete things like images and actions, try to build connections with things that provoke emotional responses - and how eventually he was able to work his way up to master-level. That's why the contrast he draws between "normal" people who have practiced memory techniques and the abilities of people with genuinely exceptional memories is so thought-provoking. Synaesthesia and Asperger's syndrome seem to be closely related to whatever it is that causes extremely good memory, but while synaesthesia is a fairly "harmless" condition, Asperger's is not, and judging by the general weirdness of the memory savants Foer profiles (or Borges' famous protagonist in his story "Funes the Memorious"), it does seem that to some extent you're either born with the ability to memorize thousands of digits of pi or you're not, and even if you put in the days and weeks it takes to mimic that talent, you'll never have the same sort of effortless skill with it that the savants do.

To that end, there's one analogy in the book that will stick with me, from when Foer is trying to answer the nature-nurture question of memory skill:

"When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move so effortlessly across the keys that the whole process becomes unconscious and the fingers seem to take on a mind of their own. At this point, most people's typing skills stop progressing. They reach a plateau. If you think about it, it's a strange phenomenon. After all, we've always been told that practice makes perfect, and many people sit behind a keyboard for at least several hours a day in essence practicing their typing. Why don't they just keep getting better and better?"

I myself am a fairly fast typist, but I've never learned to touch-type and it looks like I've stuck at my current plateau forever. Foer's explanation for why I'm stuck there is that research has shown that learning comes in three general stages: the cognitive stage is when you're learning the very basic strategies for accomplishing your task, the associative stage is when you'e got your strategies down and you're just working out the kinks, and the autonomous stage is when you've internalized the strategies to the extent that you don't even think about them anymore (this bears directly on Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hours" theory of expertise). The way to avoid plateauing is to deliberately de-autonomize your techniques by practicing in ways that prevent you from going naturally into autopilot. This is hard: in my case, I would have to unlearn my own idiosyncratic crab-handed style by being willing to spend weeks reprogramming myself and typing like an elementary schoolchild in the meantime. The kind of memory you use when remembering names a parties isn't quite the same as the muscle memory you use when typing, but the point still stands that to improve, sometimes you have to accept temporary regressions. In Foer's words:

"The best way to get out of the autonomous stage and off the OK plateau, Ericsson has found, is to actually practice failing. One way to do that is to put yourself in the mind of someone far more competent at the task you’re trying to master, and try to figure out how that person works through problems. Benjamin Franklin was apparently an early practitioner of this technique. In his autobiography, he describes how he used to read essays by the great thinkers and try to reconstruct the author's arguments according to Franklin's own logic. He'd then open up the essay and compare his reconstruction to the original words to see how his own chain of thinking stacked up against the master's. The best chess players follow a similar strategy. They will often spend several hours a day replaying the games of grand masters one move at a time, trying to understand the expert's thinking at each step. Indeed, the single best predictor of an individual’s chess skill is not the amount of chess he's played against opponents, but rather the amount of time he's spent sitting alone working through old games."

That sounds right to me. Ultimately, after a bunch of practice Foer is able to compete with people who've been practicing for years at the US Memory Championship and becomes the American champion (interestingly, Americans are looked at as memory chumps by foreigners, who regularly destroy us in international competitions). Amusingly, even after becoming a memory champion he was still prone to the same thoughtless forgetfulness he was before - he relates a story of driving out to have dinner with friends and taking the subway home, having completely forgotten that he had driven! He closes by noting that even if memory training hadn't perfected his memory, it was was still a worthwhile thing to do, as it was about "nurturing something profoundly and essentially human". Either way, it was still an entertaining read. The bibliography also has plenty of good and slightly more rigorous material to track down afterwards too. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
This book was a great mixture of the science behind memorization and the story of the author entering a memory competition. ( )
  kapheine | Apr 6, 2021 |
An enjoyable memoir of the author's year covering, and then participating, in memory sports. Not that book to read if you're looking for useful details about the techniques he employs, but there's still a good deal of interesting information and a fun story to hang it on. The audiobook, a few mispronunciations aside, is well-read. ( )
  szarka | Feb 27, 2021 |
Foer’s book certainly comes across as well-researched, but his background as a journalist shines through, perhaps a little too strongly; at times, it felt as though he was stringing together several magazine articles – albeit, well-researched magazine articles, with ample humorous anecdotes and interviews – rather than writing a cohesive, subtly tied together, full-length book. All the same, the recurring theme throughout the second half of the book is the consequences of the gradual downfall of memory training and the benefits (or lack thereof) of its revival in a world in which a sizeable portion of the population have Google apps on the iPhones. Having personally studied a language that has been experiencing its own gradual waning for centuries, I enjoyed his explorations into how memory training’s importance in ancient Greece and Rome came to decline with the advent of the printing press in the sixteenth century, the inception of child-based educational philosophies in the early twentieth century, and of course the Internet in the late twentieth century. As convenient memory crutches have appeared, the task of memorizing – whether through hard-effort memory palaces or harder-effort rote memorization – has been seen to become of less value, and questions remain about how to qualify or quantify the value of its reintroduction. Exactly what benefit does a student gain from memorizing the Gettysburg Address? Memorization doesn’t equal intelligence, so exactly how should intelligence be judged? Foer never really says, leaving the reader with the opportunity, the research, and the techniques to make his own decision. ( )
  revatait | Feb 21, 2021 |
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Having achieved the seemingly unachievable-- becoming a U.S. Memory Champion-- Foer shows how anyone with enough training and determination can achieve mastery of their memory.

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