The Amazing Brain

I am almost done reading a fascinating book about memory. It is especially intriguing to me because I have a horrible one; short term, my brain works pretty well, but is dismal with long term memories.  For instance, I can hardly remember anything that happened in my twenties.  This could be due to having 6 babies by the age of 32 and the lack of sleep thereof, which is an important memory storing time, or it could be due to other factors. This memory thing, however, is very crushing to me; I love my brain and I really want and need it to work well. So, for years I have been taking many steps to improve my memory and stay mentally sharp.


Anyway, back to the book,  Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. It is not so much a how-to book, which was disappointing to me, but rather an expose on the art of remembering, and how the author went from an average, run-of-the-mill-memory type of guy, in a matter of months, to the winner of the U.S. Memory Championship in 2006. To win, he had to perform many memory feats such as memorizing the order of two decks of cards in 5 minutes and memorizing the first and last names of 99 photos of faces in 15 minutes.

The brain is truly amazing. I remember (good for me) learning quite a while ago from somewhere* (I forget), that the brain keeps working on things subconsciously when we are working on other things, so that it is a good practice when we feel stuck on something to walk away from it and come back in a couple of hours.  I am naming it now: the Walk Away/Return Phenomena. Instinctively I knew about this because I had seen it in action while working on crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. Take crossword puzzles, for example. I would work on one until I could not come up with any more answers. Then at lunchtime I would start working on it again. I would find that suddenly I knew a lot more answers. If I needed to continue after dinner, a bunch more answers were waiting for me when I resumed the crossword puzzle. The same thing with jigsaw puzzles. I can walk away, then come back later and suddenly be able to go to pieces and know exactly where they go. I have applied this practice often with various tasks such as writing difficult papers for my bachelor degree and writing articles for my website.  It never ceases to amaze me what the brain is doing when you are not aware.

We once named a kitten “The Brain”.  Its sister was “Pinky”. We had to give them away, but the new owners kept their names. Which has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to include it.

Anyway, I will share one memory trick Foer shared in his book.  It is thousands of years old. You assign items to places called “memory palaces”. I will make something up. Okay. Let’s say you want to remember a grocery list of 10 items:

avocado, pepperoni, blueberries, butter, bananas, lettuce, cinnamon, tuna, Grass-fed ground beef, and carrots

First try to memorize it by rote. Take like a 15 seconds. See how you did, then continue.

You then choose a place you know well, like your house.  You put the items one by one in various places. The more ridiculous spin on it the better.  Let’s say we stuff the avocado’s in the mailbox and they fall out turning into guacamole. Next, we visualize a car made out of pepperoni’s dripping in your driveway. On your doorstep is bush covered with blueberries that hummingbirds are eating.  When you enter your home you step on a cube of butter and go sliding into the kitchen, where there is a monkey sitting on the counter eating bananas. And so on. It seems like more work, but this is a primary way the memory experts can remember huge amounts of information, and they learn to do it very quickly.

Anyway, I recommend the book for its interesting factor.

Ahh, the brain.  Read this other article I wrote for more information on brain health: Improving Brain Health.

Update 4/15/19: *I remembered the source of that information: MacGyver creator, Lee Zlotoff. Listen to this for further information.

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