How to Remember Anything

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.

A Skyscraper of Hair, Debt, and Sex

I always here the phrase, “we should go back to the old times because today’s culture (youth, government, economy, etc.) is so screwed up!” Well, I think people who say stuff like that are firstly pessimistic, secondly are not well versed in history, and thirdly get most of their information from the news or Facebook. If you really look back in time we have come a very long way in terms of moral reform and improvements in our society: women’s suffrage, civil rights, handicap parking spots, freedom of religion, sexual harassment policies, decreased teenage pregnancy rates, etc. I was reminded of the occurrences of debauchery in the past with my most recent book Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. Lady Georgiana Spencer was alive during the tumultuous times of late 18th century England; think American Revolution, French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, King George III going crazy, and the London newspapers obsessing over the aristocrats of the time. Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire at the age of 17 in 1774 and was thrown into the weird intricacies of noble life: making sure your curtsy was low enough, you could host daily social events, and you could be up on the newest fashion. Well, Georgiana was able to fit right into her new role and soon became the leader of the “Ton”-the who’s who of England society at the time. Everything that she did in terms of fashion was mimicked including skyscraper hair that would make 80’s styles look like bowl haircuts. She was the queen bee and spent nearly every night of her youth drinking and gambling to the point of ridiculousness. Think spring break in Cancun but with fancier dresses, pompous language, and no means of contraception. She acquired over 6,000,000 million dollars in gambling debt (probably much more then this but this was the “official” number) and was constantly trying to hide this information from her husband. To make matters worse, because of her crazy lifestyle she kept having miscarriages and was constantly pressured to conceive an heir for the Duke. She did eventually have three girls and one boy-fulfilling her primary “duty” in life.

In regards to sex, the Duchess had a steamy affair with at least one known person, Charles Grey, and was exiled for a time to give birth to the illegitimate child. She also had several unverifiable affairs and one possible lesbian relationship with Lady Elizabeth Foster also known as Bess. Bess was Georgiana’s best friend but ended up sleeping with her husband and fathering two children with him. This weird triad relationship can best be explained by the fact that everyone was cheating on each other and infidelity was the norm among the “Ton.” Georgiana would spend most of her life in a constant whirlwind of gossip, drama, fear, and overall stress because of inauspicious behaviors and quickness to withhold truths. She did have redeeming qualities in the arena of political involvement. At the time, women did not have a right to vote and were very much in the background in terms of political views. Georgiana campaigned for the Whigs and was at the front and center of the party for most of her life. This is quite commendable because she was almost always scorned in the press and satirized for her efforts. In her late 30’s and early 40’s she set out to extinguish the vice of gambling and she took up learning mineralogy, literature, poetry, and a whole host of edifying endeavors. Sadly, she died at the young age of 48 because of a liver ailment (most likely caused from her excess drinking). Georgiana’s life was full of ups and downs and it is sad that she was so susceptible to peer pressure in her early life. The vices of this day and age were in full force three hundred years ago and I think it shows that history truly does repeat itself. The Duchess never found fulfillment through status, power, money, gambling, or drugs; she finally found contentment when she spent more time with her children and enriching her mind. I honestly would not recommend this book unless you really love drama and politics but I would recommend watching the movie they made out of the book-The Duchess with Keira Knightley. Don’t fall to the pressures of our modern day society and remember that knowledge is one of the most rewarding pursuits in this life.