110. ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ Joshua Foer…

31 Mar
110. ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ Joshua Foer…

Moonwalking With Einstein,’ Joshua Foer

This was a fantastic account of how journalist Joshua Foer took his research into the World Memory Championships a little too far and ended up battling the world’s best brains in an attempt to be crowned US Memory champion.

But why improve your memory? Foer starts his account with one of the most apt descriptions of our information-rich age which I have come across recently, (not to mention explaining one of the reasons that I began this blog in the first place: to remember things I read and forget):

“Our culture constantly inundates us with new information, and yet our brains capture so little of it. Most just goes in one ear and out the other. If the point of reading were simply to retain knowledge, it would probably be the single least efficient activity I engage in. I can spend a half dozen hours reading a book and then have only a foggy notion of what it was about. All those facts and anecdotes, even the stuff interesting enough to be worth underlining, have a habit of briefly making an impression on me and then disappearing into who knows where.There are books on my shelf that I can’t even remember whether I’ve read or not…”

Some London trivia which came a little too late to be of use on my guided tours, but whose specifics are breath-taking:

“Before they can receive accreditation from London’s Public Carriage Office, cabbies-in-training must spent two to four years memorizing the locations and traffic patterns of all 25,000 streets in the vast and vastly confusing city, as well as the location of 1,400 landmarks…”


London cabbies are to be taken seriously…


Foer’s poignant thoughts on relationships upon meeting ‘EP’, one of the most severe amnesiacs in the USA, “…whose memory extended back only as far as his most recent thought”:

“A meaningful relationship between two people cannot sustain itself only in the present tense…”

On the wonders of travel, and adventure, and keeping life new and fresh and fun:

“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it…That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible tht can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives…”

(Of course, this is only a good thing if you are enjoying life!)

Ever get the feeling you’re not as smart as you used to be?

“…according to a survey conducted in 2007 by a neuropsychologist at Trinity College Dublin, fully a third of Brits under the age of thirty can’t remember even their own home land line number without pulling it up on their handsets…”

At one point in the adventure, we meet Tony Buzan, who I was astonished to learn trademarked a technique I used weekly whilst teaching at university in Japan: Mind Mapping. Can you trademark the idea of writing loads of ideas on a piece of paper? Apparently so…



How to find your way around a mind!  Image helpfully provided under Creative Commons license by Teacher Trio.


Finally, the book is full of helpful hints on how to improve your memory in a practical, day to day way, although my favourite was a slightly lengthy, more complicated method which I became rather obsessed with. It’s called the PAO system, and if you have a few free days/weeks and a desire to be able to memorise any number from 1 to a million easily, here’s how it works.

PAO stands for Person – Action – Object, (or subject verb object, as us teacher types sometimes call it). ‘All’ you have to do is make a list of 100 people, doing 100 actions, to 100 objects, and give each one a two digit number, from 00 to 99. I found it easiest to make 10 categories, and each of the ten people in each category had a name beginning with A, B, C, D, E , F, G, H, I or J.

For example:

00-09, Actors:

00 Alan Rickman

01 Bill Murray

02 Colin Firth

03 Daniel Radcliffe

04 Ewan McGregor

05 Forrest Whitaker

06 Gene Kelly

07 Harrison Ford

08 Ian McKellan (Sir)

09 James Dean


10-19, Singers:

10 Amy Winehouse

11 Bob Marley

12 Celine Dion


Once you have 100 names, you add a verb and an object to each one: if it is something connected to their profession or personality, it will be easier to remember, but each word has to be unique:


00 Alan Rickman     stirring      a potion (I saw Harry Potter recently, sorry).

01 Bill Murray     singing     karaoke (Lost In Translation is one of my favourite movies)

02 Chris Rock     shouting    into a microphone

03 Daniel Radcliffe     flying     on a broom

987642-325f2928-3c51-11e3-a7a8-fd7949ba8dc304 Ewan McGregor     injecting     heroin

05 Fred Astaire     dancing     on a wall

06 Gene Hackman     laughing     over kryptonite

07 Harrison Ford     whipping     a swastika

08 Ian McKellan (Sir)     stroking     a long, white beard

09 James Dean     polishing     a motorbike


10 Amy Winehouse     drinking     red wine

11 Bob Marley     smoking     marijuana

12 Celine Dion     steering     a ship



That’s it! Now all you have to do is, when given a number from 0 to 999,999, just divide it into number pairs and find a way to remember a story for three people: the person from the first two numbers, the action from the second pair, and the object from the last two. In the case above, for example, to remember the number 91,103, you split that into 09 – 11 – 03, which gives you:

09 James Dean     polishing     a motorbike


Image courtesy of Mod Mania

11 Bob Marley     smoking     marijuana

03 Daniel Radcliffe     flying     on a broom

Whatever that number is for, (maybe the start of your credit card, or a birthday), just associate it with ‘James Dean sitting on a broom and smoking’, (or smoking a chopped up broom): the pairings get ridiculous and funny, but that way they are even easier to remember.

Voilá! You’ll never forget a number again!


Posted by on March 31, 2014 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “110. ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ Joshua Foer…

  1. Maria

    April 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I bet you i will remember this review in eight years. Nice blog!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: