19 November 2018

Book Review: “Moonwalking with Einstein”

You are probably wondering what, with my level of ineptness in dancing am I doing with moonwalking and with my level of modest IQ, am I doing reading about Einstein. Actually, this book has nothing to do with either. This is one more of those great books suggested by the most well read persons (at least on relatively abstruse subjects) that I know of – my MBA classmate Somshekhar.

You might recollect that I have been trying to understand how to slow down my inevitable decaying of memory ever since I reached this side of half a century of revolutions around the sun. I even have tried learning by rote anything I can – country names, capitals, NATO alphabet code, periodic tables and so on.

That is when Somshekhar had pointed me to this fascinating book. If you have even the least bit of interest in understanding how our memory works, this is a fantastic read. And a reasonably easy read.

Some of the interesting snippets you are going to learn include:

(*) How our concept of who is “intelligent” changed dramatically as our memory became externalized (we could “store” stuff – on paper, pen drives etc)

(*) What does it mean when we say that we have “forgotten” something? Has it been wiped away from our brain? Or have we merely lost the ability to access it? Or have we lost the ability to access it directly, but if you give us some associated data, we regenerate the ability to access it?

(*) Why we forget certain things we spent a lot of time on – calculus after those long years – but never forget how to ride a bike after riding a few times successfully.

(*) How punctuation marks and spaces contributed heavily to our forgetting what we read.

(*) How chess players have no more IQ than you and me. But they have great memories – especially about board patterns.

(*) How we reach the “OK Plateau” in any learning. I know it has happened to me in motorbiking. It helps you understand why you reach that plateau and how to get out of it.

… and many such things.

Are you wondering if the book teaches you how to memorize more? It does and it does not. It is the journey of a young journalist who went from covering Memory Championships to becoming the US Memory Champion in about a year. You will learn about “memory palaces” and “PAO” – and they can absolutely help you remember whole decks of cards and sequence of random digits.

But, just like skills that win you car races are probably useless for you to drive from your house to the grocery store, those memory skills are probably impractical for you on a day to day basis. (I did use some of that to remember my grocery store list a couple of times though).

But the best thing you will learn is that forgetting is not a bad thing. If we did not, we would not know how to separate the important from the unimportant. That said, if you forgot to pick up the laundry that your spouse had asked you to, please do not use the above argument. The book has nothing to offer on post traumatic disorder 🙂

Posted November 19, 2018 by Rajib Roy in category "Books


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