Aspen Ideas Festival: Joshua Foer on 'The Art and Science of Remembering Everything'

Joshua Foer
Science journalist Joshua Foer used special "memory goggles" and earphones to become U.S. memory champion. He detailed his road to the competition in his book "Moonwalking with Einstein."
MPR Photo/Steve Mullis

Science journalist Joshua Foer has studied techniques for improving your memory. Humans have great visual and spatial memory, and if we simply pay attention we can remember a lot more.

The author of "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” Joshua Foer says the tricks for improving memory go back to Greek and Roman times. “These tools were invented in antiquity specifically for remembering speeches. These were the tools of oratory and rhetoric.”

The great orator of the Roman republic, Cicero, reportedly used a good trick for remembering what you want to say in public. Don’t write it all out, but “create an image of every topic you want to address, and make a blueprint.”

In his research, Foer discovered that we are better able to remember information that is concrete, not abstract. And “we have amazing visual and spatial memories… so we should use them.”

Studying the techniques of “memory champions,” Foer found that it helps to create a “network of meaning, or associational hooks” to remember names, faces, and other things. To remember things in everyday life, it’s important to make connections meaningful, and “tethered” in some way.

He shares three tricks for remembering names and faces:

1) Pay attention. These tricks only work if you pay attention. And it takes work.

2) Associate the name with a physical presence (create an image).

3) Associate the person or face with somebody famous.

Humans are able to remember words to songs, even when parts of the brain are damaged, because “music is a structuring device. It has rhythm, meter and rhyme.”

Joshua Foer spoke June 26, 2019 at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.

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