I just finished reading Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley. I have a hunch it might turn out to be one of the more useful books I’ve ever read. To be more precise, I read most of Unlimited Memory. Some time ago I let go of the idea that I need to read every book word-for-word.
Some years ago I read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. I was inspired to read Moonwalking partly because I’m super absent-minded and I want to not be so absent-minded anymore. For example, one time I drove two and a half hours to Detroit for a work thing and forgot my laptop, so I just had to immediately drive back. Another time I accidentally left my car running overnight.
I found Moonwalking to be somewhat useful although the book format was my least favorite format of book. It was what I call a “journalisty” book. Some books, like The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, are super thick and packed with a huge amount of data (data as opposed to anecdotes). Journalisty books tend to be short and contain anecdotes instead of data – and often specious conclusions. Other books of this format, that a bunch of people love but I don’t, include The Power of Habit and So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
Anyway, my memory from Moonwalking is that I learned from it the memory palace technique. I found that technique pretty useful. I actually haven’t put it to use a whole bunch since because, ironically, I forgot about it.
I also learned from Moonwalking that time passes by more quickly when each day is similar and more slowly when each day is different. I think there was some guy who spent a long time on an isolated island or something and he way underestimated how long he had been there because the days just blended together. This made me think about what a person’s life would seem like if they spent their whole life at the same job in the same town. Life would probably seem like a brief blur.
I found Unlimited Memory to be a better and more useful book than Moonwalking. Unlimited Memory was stylistically kind of amateurish but the content was sufficiently useful that I didn’t care about the style.
Unlimited Memory talked about the memory palace technique and also talked about using things like your car and your body in addition to the insides of buildings. I thought this made sense. I plan to make use of this idea.
The main thing the book discussed that I’m currently interested in is how to memorize numbers. The technique this book suggested was to turn numbers into words. Each number can be represented by a sound, like this:
1: T or D
…and so on. Vowels are “wildcards”. So the number 43 could be represented as “rum” – R for the 4, M for the 3, and U, which is just a filler. I could have used “rim” or “ram” for 43.
I’m currently using this technique to try to remember all the presidents. I have a quasi-autistic obsession with the presidents. So far I’ve read biographies of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. At one point I thought I would read biographies of all the presidents but later I decided that wouldn’t be the greatest use of time. I’ll just read about the most interesting ones. I just tested myself and I was able to remember the first 12 presidents. The cool thing about the number memory system is that it allows random access. So if you ask me who the 8th president was, I could say Martin Van Buren. Later I expect to use this system to memorize not just the presidents but information of a more practical nature.