Memory Expert’s Advice: ‘Seek Out Wonder’

A USA Memory Champion and international bestselling author visited Brunswick to speak with parents and Upper and Middle School students about how to radically improve memory.
Joshua Foer – co-author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything and co-founder of Atlas Obscura, an online magazine and travel company – also worked to inspire his audience to seek out wonder and awe. 

In 2005, Foer was working as a freelance journalist when he attended the elite memory competition at that year’s USA Memory Championship. Foer called this a “profoundly boring event,” but afterward, he set about putting some of the tips and tricks he learned into practice. 

A year later, he decided to return to the competition to see what he could learn for his story.

“The problem is, I won,” he said. “That was not supposed to happen.”

In fact, Foer not only won the championship, but also set a new U.S. record by memorizing the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds. 
Foer told parents gathered in Baker Theater that memory is a learned skill – one that dates back centuries to the ancient poets, generals, and politicians who flawlessly delivered elaborate speeches in the Roman senate.
“The people competing in these Memory Championships don't have exceptional memories,” he said. “They all trained themselves to perform these miraculous feats of memory using a set of techniques that were once widely known and widely practiced.”
Great memory, he said, is rooted in “hacking” cognitive biases through things such as “‘elaborate encoding” – like leveraging visual and spatial memory to make information that is abstract or dull, meaningful and concrete. 
“As bad as we are at remembering, we have really exceptional visual and spatial memories,” he said. “The entire art of remembering better is about figuring out ways to take ‘untethered’ information and ‘tether’ it.”
Foer said what he discovered about memory filled him with awe.
“This is incredible,” he said. “Who knew we all have this incredible capacity inside us? Nobody had ever mentioned it to me. What an incredible thing the human brain is.
“Seek out wonder,” he advised. “It takes you to good places.”
Foer’s visit served as another installment of the ’WICK Center Speaker Series, which brings leading health-and-wellness thinkers to campus.  



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