52 in 52 Book Summaries

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

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The Essence

Journalist Joshua Foer chunks the art of memory into a palatable narrative discussing his journey from memory chump to US memory champion. Memory isn’t a trait that we are natural endowed with, it is a skill that we all have the ability to acquire and cultivate. If we emulate how mental athletes have acquired the art of memorizing—taking advantage of spacial memory—nothing limits our capacities to develop memory skills.

Moonwalking with Einstein Summary Journal Entry:

This is my book summary of Moonwalking with Einstein. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. The Journal write up also includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

  • "This book is about the year I spent trying to train my memory, and also trying to train my brain to understand it—its inner working, its natural deficiencies, its hidden potential. It’s all about how I learned firsthand that our memories are indeed improvable, within limits, and that the skills of Ed and Lukas [people introduced in the book] can indeed be tapped by all of us. It’s also the scientific study of expertise, and how researchers who study memory champions have discovered general principles of skill acquisition—secrets to improving just about everything—from how mental athletes train their brains…”
  • To think is to forget
  • Memorizing is a skill that can be learned: We all have remarkable capacities asleep in us. If only we bothered ourselves to awaken them
  • “If something is going to be made memorable, it has to be dwelled upon, repeated.”
  • Rhetoica as Hernnnium = Memory Bible. It’s interesting to see how applicable such an old text is in harnessing the raw power of our abilities to recall information effectively.
  • Attention is the prerequisite to remembering. To remember we must first learn to properly attend to things. Learning to leverage our attention will provide us with the skills properly use memory tactics.
  • How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember. We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our conscious and unconscious memories.
  • The general idea with most memory techniques is to change whatever boring thing is being inputted into your memory into something that is so colorful, so exciting, and so different from anything wou've seen before that you can’t possibly forget it.
  • We must consciously convert information we are memorizing into images, distributing those images along familiar spatial journeys.
  • Photographic memory is a detestable myth. No scientific study can prove that anyone has some innate capacities to somehow recall things in the same expansiveness of a photograph. While descriptively people have found that the images in their head are best articulated using photos as an analogy, it isn’t that really photographic memory.
  • The nonlinear associative nature of our brains makes it impossible for us to consciously search our memories in an orderly way.
  • AVOID THE OK PLATEAU: We need to use deliberate practice to improve. Becoming aware of failure and learning from those mistakes is one principle to consider to practice deliberately. Others include focusing on the technique, staying goal oriented, and constant feedback of immediate or expert sources.
  • What one chooses to memorize helps shape one’s character. It’s like what we own constitutes who we are. What is most valuable in our lives are the things we obsess over in one form or another. It’s interesting to think about how we can then leverage these obsessions.
  • Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it.
  • Experts see the world differently. Due to practice, experts are able to better observe the forest of a domain rather than only recognize tons of trees.
  • What we call expertise is really just vast amounts of knowledge, pattern-based retrieval, and planning mechanisms acquired over many years of experience in the associative domain. In other words, a great memory isn’t just a by-product of expertise; it is the essence of expertise.
  • The more, we remember, the better we are at processing the world. And the better we are at processing the world, the more we can remember about it.
  • Use Associations: Turn Bakers into Bakers, Foers into fours, and Reagans into Ray guns.
  • It is all about the technique and understanding how memory works. Anyone could really do it.
  • When framing images, it helps to have a dirty mind.

Reading Recommendations

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what was discussed in Moonwalking with Einstein.

  1. A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science by Barbara Oakley
  2. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson
  3. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

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