Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything


Memories enrich our life. You are in a same job for 10 years and when you look back, time would have flied away. Without new memories, years go by and time compresses. But new experiences expand the time frame as it adds novelty to our memories.

Our brains don't remember all information equally well. Early humans had to forage for food, search for shelter, identify signs of danger and survive. Hence, our brain is wired to store images, places better than names or texts. The brain best remembers things that are repated, rhythmic, rhyming, structured and above all easily visualized. For example, animated images or things which your mind finds attractive/novel are more memorable. Words set into a jingle are hard to forget. To remember better, you need to engage our spatial memory and store information as images.

To begin training your memory, you need a stockpile of memory palaces. Mental palaces are palaces or places in your mind. It should be easily imaginable and a place you know well. For example, a mental palace can be your house or maybe the path betwen your home and office. To store something in the mental palace, associate the unmemorable information you want to store into something imaginable, visually appealing, colorful, exciting so as to make it memorable and assign it to the place in the mental palace. To recollect, just walk down the mental palace and recollect the images and their associations. If your mental palace is the path from your home to office, then you will be storing images at different landmarks on the path and you walk down path again from home to office to recollect the images.

On memorizing a deck of playing cards

Make an associate between each card and a person, action, object (PAO). For example, two spade can be donald trump (person) lifting (action) an aeroplane (object). The PAO's should be memorable. Trump lifting an aeroplace is more memorable than your neighbor walking his dog in the street. To memorize the card sequence, pick cards in bunches of three and connect the first cards person with second cards action and third cards object. Assign this image to the first place in your mental palace. Then move to the next place in your mental and assign it an image corresponding to the next three cards - you can think of the person doing the action with an object in that place. To recall, traverse your mental palance again from the first place to last place recollecting the person performing an action on that object at that place mapping back to the cards. The key here is remember the mental palace and the association between PAO image and the card.

Memorizing a person's name: associate an image describing the name along with the person's face.

Memorizing a speech: The best way to memorize a speech is point by point, not word by word. An orator delivering a speech should make one image for each topic he wants to cover and can place the images in a memory palace or a locus.

On remembering a poem

  1. Repeat a line two or three times before trying to see it is a series of images.
  2. To visualize and, the and other conjunctions, articles and syntactical connectors, use a shorthand images that would stand in for them.
  3. Make a list of images corresponding to words - a dictionary of images for the common words that can't be easily visualized.
  4. To create an image for the unimaginable word, visualize a similarly sounding or punning word in its place.
  5. Or you can use a memory of syllables - where you assign every syllable an image - breaking words into its constituent syllables and then creating an image for each syllable based on other word that begins with the syllable. To remember the poem, recollect the sequence of images.

Why must one memorize poems? Poems, ancient texts or religious texts contains pieces of wisdom. It can guide you in tight spots. To really learn a text, one has to memorize it. Memorizing texts help shape one's character - because when you memorize, you ruminate on them and in the process, make the wisdom part of your character.

History of external memory

Humans started to record sound - speeches, stories told over generations by giving the sound a shape and writing it. Later inventions like punctutals, spaces came which made the shapes more readable. Then the printing press which can reproduce information stored in books. Now, we have hard drives and massive other storage systems storing lots of information. Though there are external memories like harddrives, memory is important. Because new innovations are created by combining and recombining information and ideas in the brain.