Latish Sehgal's Blog

Book Notes: Moonwalking With Einstein

Read On: Jan 2017
Reading Time: 8 hours
Rating: 7/10


Moonwalking with Einstein recounts Joshua Foer’s yearlong quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of top “mental athletes.” He draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of remembering, and venerable tricks of the mentalist’s trade to transform our understanding of human memory.


  • Memory training is a form of mental workout. Over time, it will make the brain fitter, quicker and more nimble.
  • The brain is a mutable organ, capable within limits of reorganizing itself and readapting to new kinds of sensory input, a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.
  • To remember people’s names, associate the sound of a person’s name with something you can clearly imagine. It’s all about creating a vivid image in your mind that anchors your visual memory of the person’s face to a visual memory connected to the person’s name. When you need to reach back and remember the person name at some later date, the image you created will simply pop back in your mind.
  • When a new thought or perception enters our head, it doesn’t immediately get stashed away in long-term memory. Rather, it exists in a temporary limbo, in what’s known as working memory, a collection of brain systems that hold on to whatever is rattling around in our consciousness at the present moment.
  • To get around limitations of short term memory, you can use ‘chunking’ to store information directly in long term memory. Chunking is a way to decrease the number of items you have to remember by increasing the size of each item. For e.g, breaking the phone number into 2 parts and area code, and splitting credit card numbers into groups of four. Chunking takes seemingly meaningless information and reinterprets it in light of information that is already stored away somewhere in our long-term memory.
  • In many fields, expertise is really just vast amounts of knowledge, pattern based retrieval, and planning mechanisms acquired over many years of experience in the associated domain. In other words, a great memory isn’t just a by-product of expertise; it is the essence of expertise.
  • The more we pack our lives with memories, the slower time seems to fly. Our lives are structured by our memories of events. We remember events by positioning them in time relative to other events. Just as we accumulate memories of facts by accumulating them into a network, we accumulate life experiences by integrating them in a web of other chronological memories. The denser the web, the denser the experience of time. 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 routine 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.
  • Our brains don’t remember all types of information equally well. We are exceptional at remembering visual imagery. but terrible at remembering other kinds of information like lists of words and numbers.
  • One needs to convert something unmemorable, like a string of numbers or a deck of cards, or a shopping list, into a series of engrossing visual images and mentally arrange them within an imagined space, and suddenly those forgettable items become unforgettable.
  • Method of Loci/Memory Palace - create a space in the mind’s eye, a place that you know well and can easily visualize, and then populate that imagined place with images representing whatever you want to remember. Humans are excellent at learning spatial information. For e.g. array the items of your to-do list one by one along a route that will snake around your childhood home. When it comes time to recall the list, all you need to do is retrace the steps. Its important to try to remember the images multisensorily. The more associative hooks a new piece of information has, the more securely it gets embedded into the network of things you already know, and the more likely it is to remain in memory. To make the images more memorable, you can associate them with sex, jokes or make them animated.
  • Before starting memory training seriously, you need at least a dozen memory palaces at your disposal.
  • When trying to memorize poetry, you can use your own symbols/images for commonly used words that cannot be visualized. You can also visualize a similarly sounding or punning word.
  • Major System: technique to remember numbers - a simple code to convert numbers into phonetic sound. These sounds can be tuned to words, than to images, to be stored in a memory palace. You’re allowed to freely interperse vowels.
  • Person-Action-Object (Pao) technique is used to memorize long strings of numbers, like hundred thousand digits of pi. Every two-digit number from 00 to 99 is represented by a single image of a person performing an action on an object. Any six digit number can then be turned into a single image by combining the person from the first number with the action from the second and the object from the third.
  • Mental athletes memorize decks of playing cards in much the same way, using a PAO system in which each of the 52 cards is associated with its own person/action/object image. This allows any triplet of cards to be combined into a single image, and for a full deck to be condensed into just eighteen unique images.
  • You have to do Deliberate Practise to get out of performance plateaus. Get constant and immediate feedback on your performance.
P.S I have moved all my Book Notes to Read My Book Notes.