I’m Barrie, and I warmly welcome you to the 10th post of my blog, Over50andfit, which is published bi-weekly.
The world record for memorizing and recalling the order of a pack of playing cards is – can you guess? – 12.47 seconds.
The ancient Greeks cultivated the first memory techniques, which were applied by Cicero to memorize his speeches, and later by medieval scholars to memorize entire books. These techniques can be used today to improve our own memory. I have used them to memorize the order of a pack of playing cards – at the age of 84.
World Memory Championships
I was not aware until recently that these existed. They are an organized competition of memory sports – comprised of 10 different disciplines – in which competitors memorize as much information as possible within a given period of time. They have taken place in several different countries annually since 1991. The world record
for memorizing 59 separate packs of cards (3,068 cards) was achieved by David Farrow (Canada) in 4 hrs 58 mins 20 secs.
One might ask, What’s the point? The same question might be addressed of those who climb Everest. Our insatiable appetite for challenge and self-definition as humans is the point.
The Memory Palace
The techniques used by the Greeks were based on the concept of a Memory Palace, which refers to a place in your mind where you can visualize and store information that you want to remember. To start, choose a familiar place that can be easily visualized as the blueprint for your palace. This could be your home, your office, your neighbourhood, or whatever you wish.
Planning Your Palace
I will focus on a house, as this is what I chose for my Palace when applying this technique. I chose my home, which has a total of 25 rooms, closets and cupboards. It’s useful to close your eyes and visualize your Palace, and the order of the rooms which you will follow in your mind. The Memory Palace technique is about transforming your memories into images, and placing them in a familiar mental location. The idea is that you can mentally walk through your Palace, looking at your images in order to recall them.
My Memory Palace
I began by choosing a random group of 25 fruits and vegetables – which I wanted to memorize – beginning with onions, cucumbers, oranges, avocados, and tomatoes, and assigned them to my first five rooms. The more vivid and bizarre you make the images, the easier it is to recall them. In my first room, I imagined a large bunch of evil smelling, rotting onions. A bed constructed with giant cucumbers occupied my second room. A huge tree totally filled room three, with lush mouth-watering ripe oranges hanging from its branches. A giant, over-ripe avocado was wedged against all four walls in my fourth room, and in room five cartons of oozing rank, bad tomatoes covered the floor. With a few minutes of mental daily practice for a couple of weeks I was able to recall all 25 items, which I can remember to this day (from 3 years ago).
Using these techniques, it’s possible to remember anything you wish. I can attest to the claim that even average memories are remarkably powerful if used properly. Today, the mental workout has gained great currency in the popular imagination. Brain gyms and memory boot camps are a growing fad. An intriguing and acclaimed book on these techniques, written by Joshua Foer – a former USA memory champion – commands the unlikely title, Moonwalking With Einstein. He delivers a very instructive and entertaining TED talk on Tests of memory anyone can do.
Did you notice something different about this blog? Whereas, previously my posts have focused on physical fitness, the topic here was mental fitness. Based on popular demand, going forward I want to cover total fitness – not only physical, but also mental, emotional, relationship and financial fitness.
Don’t forget, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always improve your memory!
Please feel free to share your comments and questions.
In my next blog I will discuss the merits of Yoga.
Yours in fitness.