Have you ever shampooed your hair and then thought to yourself, “did I shampoo my hair yet?” How about meeting someone new and immediately forgetting their name? My personal favorite is always forgetting directions and having to use my GPS like it’s a prosthetic. I envy people who can recall vast stores of information from their memory and I have always wanted a way to improve upon my cerebral faculties. In an effort to flex my memory muscles, I read Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. This is a really great book about Joshua’s journey into the eclectic world of professional memorizers; competitors who memorize things like decks of cards (world record: 21.1 seconds), number of digits in 5 minutes (world record: 500), random words (world record: 300 in 15 minutes), digits of pie (world record: 67,890 digits), etc. How the frick do they do these amazing feats of memory? Well, most of them use the technique of the “Memory Palace.”
The Memory Palace has a lot of history and was documented in the Rhetorica ad Herennium circa 90 BC by an anonymous author. Basically, it is a technique that combines familiar known places (think your house) with unforgettable objects. For example, let’s try to remember this grocery list: 7 bottles of wine, 5 ounces of smoked salmon, 1 tub of cottage cheese, 3 pounds of ground beef, 10 baguettes, and 3 boxes of shredded wheat. Using my childhood house I will first imagine my mailbox where there are 7 bottles of wine singing. At my front door there are 5 naked women hitting each other with big smelly salmons. Entering my living room, Kiera Knightley is in a big tub of cottage cheese taking a bath. In my kitchen, there are three cows grinding to music. Next is my bathroom where two people are making out but their appendages and heads are baguettes. Lastly, I go to my room where there are shredded wheat boxes having a threesome on my bed. The more weird, sexual, and sensory a image the easier it is to remember. We are excellent at remembering images and we are really bad at remembering words/lists. This technique takes practice but it can make you an ace at remembering words, numbers, names, and really anything you want. Professional memorizers are not superhuman geniuses but rather have determination to practice memory techniques like the one previously explained.
The next logical question is, “why do I need to remember things when I can just write it down or use my phone?” To best answer this question we need to go back to the time before there was reading and writing. In the days of Plato, memorization was an art that the wisest people mastered. Since there were no books, all information was transmitted orally and hence had to be taken to heart if one wanted to reference it accurately. Into the Renaissance, people would memorize entire books, poems, speeches, and anthologies because texts were extremely rare. Individuals who wanted to learn had to internalize all the information. By committing things to memory, people were given stronger virtues and character because they had the wisdom of the past infused into their very being. What makes us who we are is the culmination of our memories and those memories dictate our world view, personality, and habits. In today’s society, we don’t need to remember much because we have the internet, easily available books, and smartphones. The problem with this is that our brain’s are essentially empty (compared to philosophers in the past) and when confronted with problems we get guidance from people with equally empty brains. Obviously, there are people who can give guidance but I think we would all be better off if we committed more wisdom to memory to improve our day-to-day lives. I personally, want to memorize quotes from historical figures, bible verses, historical dates, poetry, and complete works of classical philosophizers. We have an infinite capability to remember and the more we internalize the more we can grow in our understanding of life.