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Science

Secrets of a Memory Champion 290

Posted by samzenpus
from the never-forget dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "We've all heard of people who claim to have 'photographic memories.' Now Joshua Foer writes in the NY Times magazine (reg. may be required) that a 'skilled memory' can be acquired and proves it by explaining how he trained his brain to became a world-class memory athlete winning first place in the speed cards competition last year at the USA Memory Championship by memorizing a deck of cards in one minute forty seconds. According to Foer, memory training is a lost art that dates from antiquity. 'Today we have books, photographs, computers and an entire superstructure of external devices to help us store our memories outside our brains, but it wasn't so long ago that culture depended on individual memories,' writes Foer. 'It was considered a form of character-building, a way of developing the cardinal virtue of prudence and, by extension, ethics.' Foer says that the secret to supermemory is a system of training and discipline that works by creating 'memory palaces' on the fly filled with lavish images, painting a scene in the mind so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. 'Photographic memory is a detestable myth. Doesn't exist. In fact, my memory is quite average,' concludes Ed Cooke who recently invented a code that allows him to convert every number from 0 to 999,999,999 into a unique image that he can then deposit in a memory palace. 'What you have to understand is that even average memories are remarkably powerful if used properly.'"
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Secrets of a Memory Champion

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  • 'Photographic memory is a detestable myth. Doesn't exist. In fact, my memory is quite average,' concludes Ed Cooke...

    And yet this man has memory palaces. Average, indeed.

    • by fractoid (1076465)

      'Photographic memory is a detestable myth. Doesn't exist. In fact, my memory is quite average,' concludes Ed Cooke...

      And yet this man has memory palaces. Average, indeed.

      I can't comment on this dude having a normal memory or otherwise, but he certainly has a pretty closed mind. There's a big difference between a well trained mind and a true photographic memory. Some people just remember *everything*. It's not something they train themselves to do, or use a technique, it's something physically different about their brain that makes it work that way.

      He's like a guy who's red/green colourblind but has trained himself to distinguish the two by brightness or context, who then

      • Re:Palaces? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcvos (645701) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @05:49AM (#35297948)

        True. Lots of stuff is trainable, but is inborn for some people. Strength, for example. Some people are naturally stronger than others, but you can make up for the difference by working out in the gym. Absolute hearing (recognizing the pitch of a note of music): my dad has always been able to do it and can't remember a time when he couldn't, nor did he understand why others couldn't. But many musicians need to train quite hard at it. To some it comes naturally after years of making music, to others it doesn't.

        Sometimes it's nature, sometimes it's nurture, sometimes it's a bit of both.

        In any case, it's good to know that memory can be trained too. My memory sucks. My wife has always had excellent memory (not quite photographic) without any kind of training (other than regular study, which is also trains your memory, I guess).

        • by fractoid (1076465)
          Heh, I took the opposite approach. "Why bother training myself to remember where I left my keys? I have a wife for that!" ;)
        • by ShakaUVM (157947)

          True. Lots of stuff is trainable, but is inborn for some people. Strength, for example. Some people are naturally stronger than others, but you can make up for the difference by working out in the gym. Absolute hearing (recognizing the pitch of a note of music): my dad has always been able to do it and can't remember a time when he couldn't, nor did he understand why others couldn't. But many musicians need to train quite hard at it. To some it comes naturally after years of making music, to others it doesn

          • by mcvos (645701)

            Perfect pitch is quite rare in Westerners. Mozart was considered special (in part) because he had it and could name the notes in church bells.

            But in China, which uses a tone-based language, 1 out of 10 people have perfect pitch. And this isn't true in other Asian countries that don't use tone. So it certainly is not just an innate skill that some people have.

            It's not 100% innate, but it's not 100% learned either. Otherwise all Chinese would have it, and only very experienced musicians in cultures with non-tine-based languages. Clearly some have more talent for it than others, but many talented people still benefit a lot from practice.

            Personally, I find brains to be fascinating things, with a lot of really interesting facilities. Once you've trained with a device long enough (a car, a waldo, whatever) your brain will actually incorporate it into your automatic actions as if it was part of the body, offloading the work from the neocortex, meaning you can do it smoothly and without needing to think through it. It's also why people tend to flinch when people hit their cars.

            I've got that with bicycles and to some extend with sailing boats. Not with cars yet, unfortunately. But it's funny when you discover that you're operating a big and complex vehicle as if it's an extension of your body. Looks like

        • by Kozz (7764)

          Absolute hearing (recognizing the pitch of a note of music): my dad has always been able to do it and can't remember a time when he couldn't, nor did he understand why others couldn't. But many musicians need to train quite hard at it. To some it comes naturally after years of making music, to others it doesn't.

          Actually, "perfect pitch" (what most call it) isn't necessarily an asset, but can potentially be distracting. Imagine a perfect-pitch-hearing person listening to someone singing a capella. That person may be a quarter-step flat or sharp from a note on the traditional western scale, but they can still perfectly hit an octave, a third, a fifth, or sing the major scale up & down. But the perfect-pitch-hearing individual may only hear every single note in the major scale being a quarter-step off, and wou

      • Re:Palaces? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @08:28AM (#35298552)

        I can't comment on this dude having a normal memory or otherwise, but he certainly has a pretty closed mind. There's a big difference between a well trained mind and a true photographic memory. Some people just remember *everything*. It's not something they train themselves to do, or use a technique, it's something physically different about their brain that makes it work that way.

        That you believe the myth doesn't make you more open minded.

        *IF* there were true photographic memory, then the prizes at these world memory championships would be scooped up by people that have it. But they're not. They're won by ordinary people with pretty average memories who dedicate their spare time to mastering memory techniques.

        "Photographic memory" is the stuff of magicians, hucksters and B movie thrillers.

        • by radtea (464814)

          *IF* there were true photographic memory, then the prizes at these world memory championships would be scooped up by people that have it. But they're not. They're won by ordinary people with pretty average memories who dedicate their spare time to mastering memory techniques.

          This is an excellent point, but it is worth mentioning that there is a different sense in which some people do have a limited kind of "photographic memory", although I don't believe this justifies the use of the term in the ordinary sense, which applies to an empty set of individuals.

          The case I'm thinking of was discovered in an experiment dealing with visual persistence. The experiment involved look at two images with a stereoscope. Both images were random black-and-white pixels. The idea was that where

        • by Kozz (7764)

          I can't comment on this dude having a normal memory or otherwise, but he certainly has a pretty closed mind. There's a big difference between a well trained mind and a true photographic memory. Some people just remember *everything*. It's not something they train themselves to do, or use a technique, it's something physically different about their brain that makes it work that way.

          That you believe the myth doesn't make you more open minded.

          *IF* there were true photographic memory, then the prizes at these world memory championships would be scooped up by people that have it. But they're not. They're won by ordinary people with pretty average memories who dedicate their spare time to mastering memory techniques.

          "Photographic memory" is the stuff of magicians, hucksters and B movie thrillers.

          Actually, there ARE some people who have near-perfect autobiographical memory. Hyperthymesia [wikimedia.org] is the name for it. Though I really can't say with any certainty whether this particular kind of memory would convey any advantages in the memory competitions.

        • by bkaul01 (619795)

          *IF* there were true photographic memory, then the prizes at these world memory championships would be scooped up by people that have it. But they're not. They're won by ordinary people with pretty average memories who dedicate their spare time to mastering memory techniques.

          Perhaps ... but if you had a photographic memory, don't you think you'd have better things to do with your time than bore yourself with memory contests?

        • by Nyder (754090)

          ...

          *IF* there were true photographic memory, then the prizes at these world memory championships would be scooped up by people that have it. But they're not. They're won by ordinary people with pretty average memories who dedicate their spare time to mastering memory techniques.

          "Photographic memory" is the stuff of magicians, hucksters and B movie thrillers.

          Did it ever occur to you that not all people are greedy? Some people do not feel the need to get rich on shortcuts/gameshows/gambling?

    • Re:Palaces? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chapter80 (926879) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @07:20AM (#35298244)

      If you want to read up on the topics of memory systems, here are some terms to Google:

      Loci - a memory system to "walk a path" in your mind, placing objects at predictable locations along the path. Then you re-walk it, and can "see" what objects were left there. Links: 1 [wikipedia.org] 2 [increasebrainpower.com]

      Major System - a system that translates digits to consonants, so that numbers can be pictured as words: Links: 1 [wikipedia.org] 2 [litemind.com]

      Link System - a system to chain together 2 objects, so that a list of arbitrary length can be remembered 2 objects at a time. 1 [wikipedia.org] 2 [mindtools.com]

      Dominic System - a system that converts numeric values (typically 2 or 3 digit numbers) to memorable people. Links: 1 [wikipedia.org] 2

      Memory Palace - a way of using loci on a massive scale Link [ludism.org]

      That should get you started. Follow links on the wikipedia page, and you'll know more than you ever wanted to know.
      I've found memory techniques VERY helpful in business, and I amaze people on a day-to-day basis with my memory (which was extremely poor before I began studying the subject). Now I'm the guy who the office always goes to, when they are trying to remember how we handled a past situation, or what's the name of that customer/product/technique, or whatever.
       

      • If you want to read up on the topics of memory systems, here are some terms to Google:

        Loci - a memory system to "walk a path" in your mind, placing objects at predictable locations along the path. Then you re-walk it, and can "see" what objects were left there. Links: 1 [wikipedia.org] 2 [increasebrainpower.com]

        Major System - a system that translates digits to consonants, so that numbers can be pictured as words: Links: 1 [wikipedia.org] 2 [litemind.com]

        Link System - a system to chain together 2 objects, so that a list of arbitrary length can be remembered 2 objects at a time. 1 [wikipedia.org] 2 [mindtools.com]

        Dominic System - a system that converts numeric values (typically 2 or 3 digit numbers) to memorable people. Links: 1 [wikipedia.org] 2

        Memory Palace - a way of using loci on a massive scale Link [ludism.org]

        I can attest to this stuff being legit. I was shown the link system technique years ago and dabbled in it, and it does indeed work. I don't necessarily do it now, but I do have a good memory with some things.

        This has my interest piqued again, I need to take a look at this stuff.

      • how long did this take to show a difference? I'm interested, just not sure it's worth the time and effort
      • Re:Palaces? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @12:01PM (#35300716)

        Most of the truly powerful memory systems relying on visual imagination; sadly, not everyone has a powerful visual imagination/memory. Some people can imagine a whole room filled with intricate details, other people have trouble picturing their wife's face after 20 years of being together. The reason people don't understand this is because everyone assumes that they're normal. People with visual imaginations assume that everyone has one, that people who can't use memory places must just be doing it wrong. People without visual imagination assume that no one does, that memory places are an elaborate metaphor or something. I myself have an excellent memory and a powerful imagination, but struggle to retrieve detailed images from memories. I tried for months to apply memory places without making any progress because my brain simply isn't wired that way.

    • So this guy's like the Joe the Plumber of memory? :P

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Yeah, you're not kidding. He seems to have remarkable visual cognition. I can't do that. My "mind's eye" is not an eye. If I close my eyes and "picture something" I don't get a picture. The best I can do is think about something which for me is an entirely linguistic process, there is no visual component.

      I mean, try this. Close your eyes and picture an apple. Is it red or green? I get the feeling that some people actually see an apple, and it actually registers as red or green in their brain before t

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Close your eyes and picture an apple. Is it red or green? I get the feeling that some people actually see an apple, and it actually registers as red or green in their brain before the question is even asked.

        More than that. I first see a Red Delicious, then a Granny Smith. Now a Yellow Delicious, and my current supermarket's display of apples, including Fujis, Pink Ladys, etc. Prior supermarkets I've been to, including ones from when I was a kid. The smell of fresh apple, the smell of decaying apples by the cross country race course at my middle school. The sights and sounds of the hornets buzzing on those decaying apples, the dread I always felt running past them, hoping the hornets were too drunk to atta

  • It's True (Score:3, Funny)

    by The Wild Norseman (1404891) <tw@norseman.gmail@com> on Thursday February 24, 2011 @03:41AM (#35297558)

    I think Ed Cooke's memory is as average as he claims. For example, I betcha he can't remember where my car keys are either.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by strobexii (601986)
      He probably left them in his other palace.
    • by Chapter80 (926879)

      I think Ed Cooke's memory is as average as he claims. For example, I betcha he can't remember where my car keys are either.

      You probably have it narrowed down to about 10 places, while he's got it narrowed down to 999,999,999 places.

  • Isn't this what many of "start with a peg list" memory gurus have been telling us for a long time now?

    • Re:Old stuff (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:02AM (#35297618)

      I think that the difference is that all the gurus are telling everybody to do what works for them, where these guys are actually writing up and studying different techniques and finding that different lists work for different people.

      I guess a summary list of practical research you can read through would be really interesting if anyone knows a good one.... There was something recently that the only proven memorisation technique is to use some kind of exponential back off. Even a special program to do that. Unfortunately I can't remember where and when it was discussed :-) ..

  • Shenanigans (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @03:46AM (#35297568)

    ... who recently invented a code that allows him to convert every number from 0 to 999,999,999 into a unique image that he can then deposit in a memory palace.

    Hey, I can easily recognize and recall any one of those numbers even without the mental chicanery!

    Having grown up with a guy who had a true photographic memory - I call shenanigans. I agree a person can train his memory to work remarkably better; but photographic memories are ... different. I don't know how to describe it, but It's pretty obviously not just a case of a well-trained brain.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      if they can reconstruct an image like it was, then they have a good 'photographic memory', however it's not just a 'photo' in memory that one would use to remember such. of course, if they can do that from memory then they're counted as gifted artists - but there's more to it than just printing it out dot by dot like a computer.

      if someone claims to have a true always on photographic memory, you can always bust them by asking them if they remember your credit card number they've seen when you've used the car

      • Do you remember any porn stars?

        How do they look in your head?

        mmmmm

        Could you draw it, and be accurate to 95%?

        Just as a photo is not a 100% copy, but 99% or less. So is photomemory, yes its photo, but it could be low res, or blurerd or been in bad light.

        You can still recall memories like photos. Or does your child hood look like static ?

    • Having grown up with a guy who had a true photographic memory - I call shenanigans. I agree a person can train his memory to work remarkably better; but photographic memories are ... different. I don't know how to describe it, but It's pretty obviously not just a case of a well-trained brain.

      Studies of savants indicate that some people truly have the ability to store an image in the mind essentially "uncompressed". Most of us tend to store a heavily compressed representation of an image in our minds, but some people can either bypass this normal processing, or don't seem to have it (the case with many savants). They can truly recall every little insignificant detail of an image without having to make any perceived special effort.

      I've once seen a video where savant artist Stephen Wiltshire was t

    • by Xest (935314)

      I believe I have a photographic memory, although I couldn't be sure, because I haven't had a different memory to be able to tell the difference.

      What I can say with absolute certainty is that I can recall certain scenes which I have seen and somewhat visualise an image in my mind of that scene. I can't recall detail- I couldn't look at a book page and recall every word on the page, but I can walk down a street, and think back to that scene and say "Yeah, there was a red Ford Mondeo turning left, I was on the

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "I believe I have a photographic memory"

        I can help you there: You don't. No one has ever been documented with photographic memory. There are specific tests, no one has ever passed. some people have better memories then others, and some people have phenomenal memory with specific things.

        Nothing in your post even indicates that your memory is better or worse then someone else's memory.

  • by Dr_Ish (639005) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @03:53AM (#35297590) Homepage
    The claims here are basically sound. The Medievals had a problem with both literacy and the cost of writing materials. Should anyone want to know more about 'older' memory systems, I would recommend, Curruthers, M. (1990), *The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture*, Cambridge U.P. This book is not only fascinating, it is also well written.

    Sometimes, reinventing, or rediscovering something is useful, I seem to recall. *grin*
  • Kevin Trudeau

    After watching his 'Mega memory' infomercial enough times I could remember all the items on the list too.

  • That's great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Daetrin (576516) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:13AM (#35297658)
    I've heard all this before. You can make cute little memory associations that will let you easily remember a really long number, or a sequence of cards, or whatever.

    That's great if you want to amaze your friends or count cards in Vegas, but i don't think that's going to be of much practical use in my day to day life. Certainly not compared to the effort required. What i really need is a way to remember how i solved a particular programming problem six months ago. Or what the best algorithm is for a particular task. Things that can't be summed up as a simple number. Some people get asked "do you know how to do X" and they say "Why yes! I dealt with that six months ago, and this is how you solve the problem!" When posed with the same question i usually say "Uh, i dealt with something like that six months ago, let me see if i wrote it down in my notes." If that fails (which it often does, since i can never be sure what i'll need to remember later at the time that it happens) i'll spend fifteen minutes (or more) searching through old code trying to remind myself how exactly i dealt with it.

    So some people (namely me) have far worse than average memory (which definitely implies there are others with far better than average memory, despite what he says) but his method certainly isn't going to help me, and i can't think of any kind of simple training that would.
    • by lannocc (568669)
      I find that memory recall success is all about organization.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Enigma23 (460910)

        I find that memory recall success is all about organization.

        Well, that's me screwed then, given what a smeghole my bedroom is...

    • by StikyPad (445176)

      This is me exactly, except 6 months is being far too generous. Six days is about my limit, and that's just for the abstract of what transpired, not the details. It's not that I have no recollection of the experiences whatsoever (although that's sometimes the case), but rather that I can't recall them at will, and I usually end up retracing my steps. I may remember that A lead to B, and I'll investigate B, only to rediscover that B was a dead end and I had to explore C.

      • I'm much the same way but I compensate readily by taking good notes. The guy in the article talks about how computers, books, etc. have mitigated the need for natural memory. Certainly, that's the case for me but I don't perceive a "bad memory" as a hindrance. I see it as an opportunity to make the most of the tools at my disposal. I may have to retrace my steps but they're really well-documented steps. At work, in particular, I date- and time-stamp every phone call that I get. If somebody calls back

        • I'm exactly the same way. I have good logical and learning ability but absolute shit memory. If I didn't use a programming language for a few weeks I'd forget the entire syntax, but I'd re-learn it in a matter of hours. Never mind remembering function names and arguments, I pretty much forget those immediately after I use them. The only way for me to remember things is to take notes and lay them out in a logical manner so that it's intuitive for me to re-learn the information quickly. Of course I never use

          • I've tried keeping my notes on a computer and it doesn't work as well for me. The operation that you describe as "laying them out in a logical manner" works best for me when I'm writing my notes by hand. Obviously, some memory of the content or its structure is required to make effective use of the notes and that memory doesn't take root as well when I type, rather than write my notes.

      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        It's similar for me although paradoxically I have a good short term memory. It's just that apparently I'm bad at prioritizing what goes into long-term storage - the stuff most people remember gets discarded almost immediately but random junk I may or may not need sticks.

        When I was in school I could give you a synopsis of every single book Terry Pratchett had written to that date but I needed half a year just to get my classmates into my head. Of course, as soon as I found out how good my short-term memory
    • by dargaud (518470)

      You can make cute little memory associations that will let you easily remember a really long number, or a sequence of cards, or whatever.

      Recently for a job interview I knew there'd be tests that involved memorizing letter/number combinations. I was on the plane ride to the interview when I read off a webpage a method to do those associations. It worked great, but I didn't get the job: I guess other people had more than one hour to learn and practice ! Or maybe memory wasn't everything and job competency was actually required !!! Anyway, as an engineer it's a lot more important for me to remember the order of magnitude of a value than the exa

    • Do not underestimate the power of mnemonics; They can greatly improve your performance in anything you do!

      My first memory course was, "You Can Remember" by Dr. Bruno Furst. It came in a slipcover with twelve small lessons and a "dictionary" that converted numbers to mnemonics. It was advertised extensively in Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and Mechanix Illustrated magazines in the 50's and 60's. I used some of those techniques for years, but I did not get really interested in memory systems until my 20

    • by CODiNE (27417)

      So some people (namely me) have far worse than average memory (which definitely implies there are others with far better than average memory

      Okay Mr. Glass, you now know your purpose in life... to find the man with a memory opposite of yours... to discover this great champion of human memory. To find this man... you must be willing to make great sacrifices.

    • Sometimes, skills that take effort to master can have value, even if it's not directly obvious before you've mastered them. Take mental arithmetic. It takes kids a lot of effort to learn the rules and (years of) practice with it, but then, besides being able to divide 720 by 15 in their heads like Rain Man, they can also do amazing things like give and take the correct change in a shop, without having to whip out a pocket calculator.

      Just the other day I bought an item worth $6 and gave the girl at the cou

    • What i really need is a way to remember how i solved a particular programming problem six months ago.

      Yep. More than once, I've written a small script to solve a problem. This tickled my memory, so I use find . -print | xargs grep -i FunctionName, and I find the same script I wrote months or years ago. Sometimes I've even used the same variable names and data structures.

    • by tixxit (1107127)
      I would say 15 minutes going through some well commented and/or clear code is certainly acceptable if it means I find a solution to a problem.
    • by Thelasko (1196535)
      That's because you work on things that are more conceptual. As a programmer, your profession rewards critical thinking, not memorization. However, there are professions that require a great deal of memorization (physicians, pharmacists, etc.). People in these professions could benefit greatly (perhaps some already have), from this information.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Create a person wiki.
      Keep your code there.

      I used to keep all my classes and procedures on a floppy and take from place to place.

  • Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IICV (652597) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:14AM (#35297664)

    This makes sense - after all, we've had culture for far* longer than we've had writing, and it stands to reason that effective transmission of information across generational boundaries would be an evolutionarily beneficial trait.

    People seem to forget that millions of years of evolution must have left a mark on us; the entirety of recorded history so far is nothing but a strange coda to an evolutionary record that spans an unimaginable depth of time, and for almost all of that deep time the only way to maintain knowledge (a gigantic evolutionary advantage!) was for someone to memorize it.

    *by "far" I mean on the order of a hundred thousand years

    • by kieran (20691)

      1. Evolution *is* memory. (Some of) what works and what doesn't gets wired in.

      2. Have we really been transmitting information across generational boundaries using language all that much longer (in evolutionary terms) than we've been writing?

      • Evolution *is* memory. (Some of) what works and what doesn't gets wired in.

        I'd almost agree, except that I'd say evolution is the memory of a series of local optimizations. It has no memory of what didn't work and will happily keep repeating the same dumb experiments over and over.

  • Doesn't exist.

    What? The subject?

  • by toygeek (473120) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:34AM (#35297720) Homepage Journal

    It offered real techniques that simply work. I adapted some of it to help me remember names. For a friend named Carice, I imagined her careening down an icy road with a look of terror on her face. Car + Ice = Carice.

    Another, Flo (real name!) I couldn't remember so I picked out that she has to use oxygen. The oxygen "flo's" into her nose.

    Simple things like that really do work, it doesn't have to be elaborate.

    Oh, another one. I kept mixing up the names of two brothers who looked very much alike, except that one was much taller than the other (about 6'6"). So, I looked at their names: Lewis and Drake. On an alphabet counted upwards from the bottom, Lewis is higher than Drake! Great, so the tall one is Lewis.

    I would love to remember more things that aren't easy to remember automagically. Like, why do I remember that a MIG 25 used drone engines with a overhaul time of 100hrs and that mach 3 would kill the engines in short order, but can't remember the process for some stupid Windows thing that I do every other day? Seems like my head is full of useless trivia, but when I think about those things guess what pops into my head? Images.

    Images + association = Memory.

    • by bronney (638318)

      lol good stuff! :) I might give this a try but for Chinese name, I am running out of bongs!! :D

    • by ledow (319597) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @05:39AM (#35297904) Homepage

      Those are "techniques"? In that case I've been using "techniques" since I was born. I have a notoriously terrible "memory" but actually I can remember just about anything people ask me to.

      I remember my card PINs through their differences between successive digits (up 2, down 1, up 6, etc.). With that and simple PINs that I'm allocated, it's very difficult *NOT* to find an obscure but simple pattern that then sticks in my memory. I'm a mathematician, I can find a pattern in any list of numbers you happen to give me if I try hard enough.

      More likely, my hand remembers the pattern to type on a ATM keypad (which is annoying when all you have is a numpad because they are upside-down to each other, and even worse when you have to close your eyes and "tap out" the numbers in order to remember what they actually were)

      I'm currently learning Italian. When a word doesn't come from a Latin base, linking it to its English analogue is tricky so it's simpler to make up some association than it is to remember the word. The Italian for "where" is "dove" (which is pronounced a little like "duvet"). Where's the dove? Under the duvet. I can't forget it or get it confused with when, why, how or who. When an Italian wants me to say "Where", I link dove, duvet and the image/sound of my girlfriend saying that word on the phone one day. (Still doesn't mean I can pronounce it properly, though!)

      But this "memorise tons by associating with a bizarre image" thing is DECADES old. It doesn't work for me, and I've tried many times. I honestly have zero problems memorising huge strings of digits, or facts, or words, or images, or faces, or even sounds if I need to.

      I can recite the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, and I can say pi to 32 decimal places without even blinking an eyelid, entirely from memory and the last time I *committed* them to memory was when I was 14/15 (yeah, I was a geeky kid). I could probably read out every line from the largest AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS that I ever had, too.

      I can do the balcony scene because we were told to memorise it for English class and we would be performing it in front of the class the next day. I still know every word. I can remember pi because I went through a phase of writing computer programs to calculate it and it was simpler to have it stuck in my mind to see how fast they converged. I can do the AUTOEXEC.BAT because I wrote the thing and changed it every day for a year in order to get *anything* to run and ended up with a set of "perfect" configs. I can still remember whole conversations from primary school, and weird things like what my dad said to me on a trip I took when I was 8 and things like that.

      It just matters more which type of learner you are - teachers have been teaching to a certain number of learning styles for DECADES - visual (has to see / imagine something to learn it), tactile (has to play / touch something to learn a principle), auditory (has to hear something to learn it), etc. and any decent teacher knows which of their kids are which style and how best to explain new problems to them.

      The problem I have is that on every "learning styles" quiz that I've ever done I come out as every learning style evenly. So does my brother, who also went to university. That means that mere exposure to something is enough for me to learn it which means I pick up lots of useless information and my memory doesn't get any "special" exercise - it just does it's job and doesn't have to struggle for *anything* that I'm interested in. If I'm not interested in it, though, it struggles because I have to physically commit it to memory, but then it's there forever.

      The problem with random memorisation is that I just don't care enough about it to memorise it specifically, and thus often miss the entire opportunity when the information is exposed to me of committing it to memory (e.g. people's face - I work in schools so I see thousands of unique faces every day and it's not worth me memorising even 1% of them, so I don't re

      • by gknoy (899301)

        I remember my card PINs through their differences between successive digits (up 2, down 1, up 6, etc.)

        Wow, that was remarkably revealing (and, I trust, utterly fake): +2,-1,+6 = +7. This means that the sequence is either 1328 or 2439... unless you let it count multi-digit numbers.

        Still, a clever way to remember it!

        • by ledow (319597)

          Utterly fake, obviously, but you can find nicer patterns in even the most horrible of PINs. Works well for door-entry too because you literally move you finger up, left, down, right, etc. on the keypad rather than remember what numbers you're actually pressing.

          Works well until some bastard changes the keypad, though. :-)

      • by OzPeter (195038)

        I'm currently learning Italian. When a word doesn't come from a Latin base, linking it to its English analogue is tricky so it's simpler to make up some association than it is to remember the word. The Italian for "where" is "dove" (which is pronounced a little like "duvet"). Where's the dove? Under the duvet. I can't forget it or get it confused with when, why, how or who. When an Italian wants me to say "Where", I link dove, duvet and the image/sound of my girlfriend saying that word on the phone one day. (Still doesn't mean I can pronounce it properly, though!)

        I'm not going to claim having learnt well any language well other than my native tongue, but isn't learning mnemonics for a foreign language actually putting a level of indirection (and hence a roadblock) between you and potential fluency. In your native language you don't use a mnemonic for "where", you grok it. And as a child you didn't use mnemonics to learn such words either. So how do you let go of such a crutch and slip into fluency?

    • by Nyder (754090)

      ...>

      I would love to remember more things that aren't easy to remember automagically. Like, why do I remember that a MIG 25 used drone engines with a overhaul time of 100hrs and that mach 3 would kill the engines in short order, but can't remember the process for some stupid Windows thing that I do every other day? Seems like my head is full of useless trivia, but when I think about those things guess what pops into my head? Images.

      Images + association = Memory.

      Probably because you enjoyed learning that "useless" triva, and you don't really like the stupid process for the windows thingy.

      Emotion seems to play a part in memory. It's easier to remember stuff when your in a good mood, happy, interested, then when your bored, not interested.

  • by oluckyman (2002794) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:46AM (#35297756)
    This technique is useless for those like me who have no mind's eye. (Yes, I experience mental images in dreams, but I can't even summon up a circle when awake.) This affliction runs so much against the grain of modern theories of vision and thought (inter alia) that even the experts dispute its existence. See http://www.imagery-imagination.com/non-im.htm [imagery-imagination.com] and the references. I've never met anyone else with the condition, but I should get out more. I'm guessing it occurs more often among IT people, but who knows? Any fellow Slashdotters with me on this?
    • I don't remember anything through images. I can't conjure up an image. I have never remembered anything through imagery. I just have abstract ideas, connected together by some smooth flow of thoughts guided by manipulation rules. This means that what comes naturally to many people is difficult to me. On the other hand, what is much harder to other people - because they can't rely on imagery - is no harder for me than the simpler tasks. For example, I might find basic Euclidean geometry harder than the smart

    • I'm the same. In fact, possibly a useful technique for me would be to turn images into numbers and then remember the number. It's not something I've ever considered trying to do.

      I can still remember the telephone numbers of my grandparents more than 20 years after they died (and so I can guarantee that I've never used them since).

      I can remember things like my bank account numbers and sort codes. I don't have "speed dials" programmed into my telephone because I can remember the full telephone number of anyon

    • Hey there brother! I too have the same problem as you. I see stuff in dreams, but cant picture anything awake. Kind of makes the descriptive stuff pretty pointless in books. I do find that I can "picture" (for want of a better term) somehow symbolically. As in, I can map directions in my head, or work out where everything is in my house in my head. I just can't do it visually, it's more like doing math. Do you experience anything like that? I also find I have a lot of trouble explaining things visually (as
  • This sounds interesting. Does anyone know of a good book that would help teach me this technique?
  • I wonder if people with great memories are bad at actually processing information.

    Like, if you can remember everything, why bother ever working stuff out for yourself...

    If you cant remember much you have to work stuff out as you go.

    Everything has its good and bad points.

    • by meburke (736645)

      There is a difference between memory and skills. In order to do good Algebra you must have a specialized vocabulary of about 620 concepts and be able to make the distinctions among them. Using these tools is easier if you actually know what they are, but good usage comes from good practice.

    • great memories are bad at actually processing information

      Yea, he could get a segmentation fault.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @06:09AM (#35298014) Homepage
    1. Claim that you don't have one, and you're just a ordinary Joe with a secret sauce.
    2. Sell the recipe for your secret sauce to people who really don't have an eidetic memory.
    3. Profit!
    • by OzPeter (195038)

      1. Claim that you don't have one, and you're just a ordinary Joe with a secret sauce.
      2. Sell the recipe for your secret sauce to people who really don't have an eidetic memory.
      3. Profit!

      4. Wait until the marks have forgotten what you sold them

      5. Sell it to them again

      6. More profit!

  • by codeButcher (223668) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @06:15AM (#35298030)

    From the article:

    They referred to themselves as mental athletes, or M.A.’s for short.

    What's wrong? Can't remember the full name?

  • TFA: "Now Joshua Foer writes in the NY Times magazine (reg. may be required) that a 'skilled memory' can be acquired and proves ..."

    News indeed. Prior art (e.g.): Egan and Schwartz (1979), Chunking in recall of symbolic drawings. Memory and Cognition, 7(2), 149-158.

    And again someone who 'proves'.

    CC.
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @08:57AM (#35298676)
    ... but his reasoning skills are not. Otherwise, he wouldn't prove a statement ("Everyone can train their memory to the level of a champion") with a sample size of one ("I trained my memory to the level of a champion"). There should be a name for this. Hm. The "I can do it so everyone can do it"-fallacy?
  • No one ever tested as been found, and it seems it was a concept developed by a man whose sole goal was to get into a specific someones knickers.

    Eidetic memory, is different and MAY exist, but there is no real strong evidence to support it. This may be due to the fact that it's measurement tom determined it's exists moves. So it's hard to know what is really eidetic memory, or the abiltil to remember on type of thing really well.

    It's all a hack and cheat in GURPS.

  • Show a person 600x800 random pixels for as long
    as they want.

    Take it away, and ask them to tell you
    even a single pixel at a given spot.

For every bloke who makes his mark, there's half a dozen waiting to rub it out. -- Andy Capp

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