Joshua Foer's memory racket

less than 1 minute read

For Sunday morning (here in California, still, although it’s fading into afternoon in my native land), I can point you to a book excerpt by Joshua Foer, from his new book, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Foer describes in detail how he set about to master the method of loci, to see just how hard it can be to compete in elite memory competitions. The number part was interesting:

When it comes to memorising long strings of numbers, such as 100,000 digits of pi, most mental athletes use a more complex technique that is known as "person-action-object", or PAO. In the PAO system, every two-digit number from 00 to 99 is represented by a single image of a person performing an action on an object. The number 34 might be Frank Sinatra (a person) crooning (an action) into a microphone (an object). Unlike the Major System, these associations are entirely arbitrary and have to be learned in advance, which is to say it takes a lot of remembering just to be able to remember.

I’ve always thought of paleoanthropology as an extreme memory competition…