Where We Live: The Supreme Memory Show

Today's guest memorized the order of a deck of cards in one minute 40 seconds

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Etan Markus
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Where We Live: The Supreme Memory Show
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Where We Live: The Supreme Memory Show

Today’s guest memorized the precise order of an entire deck of cards in one minute and forty seconds.

This supreme act of memorization earned Joshua Foer a US record for speed and a winning title at the US memory championship in 2006.  But how does his uncanny ability to memorize useless information relate to our daily blunders of lost car keys, forgotten birthdays…and the classic: “I know you just told me… but what’s your name again?!” 

Today we’ll explore memory with some of the best minds on the planet – we’ll find out how we might use some of the tricks of their trade in our own lives.  And did you know the brains of rats and human beings are nearly identical in terms of developing and processing memory?  It’s true, according to a UCONN researcher who studies the brains of rats to better understand just how memory works.



Associative memory and Holography

I couldn't call this in (because the program was "pre-recorded" when I caught it): One of the guests brought up the ancient technique of associating the items to remember (that are too rich or random) with familiar places. The physics of holography is strikingly similar: A complicated wave (of a face, say) is "mixed" with a simple wave; the interference (I forget the details) of the two waves enables the phase of the complicated wave (i.e., the timing at which information about different features of the complicated wave arrive at the detector; i.e., the observer's eyes) to be reproduced by uncoupling it from the simple wave. The simple wave (here, the familiar places) provides the beat, so to speak; enabling the recall of the complicated wave (the rich/random memorized items).

Listener Email from Jeff

It's easy to see how memory helps us in our lives, but a little harder to understand the value of forgetting. I have a great memory for facts I've read, always have since childhood, but I had a terrible time remembering names and faces. I used to think that meant I would never be a member of the "in" club, or any political function.

Now, I appreciate my short memory. Because of that deficiency, I can meet someone freshly several times. It helps me treat everyone the same. I don't exactly know whether you've helped me or hurt me until I've known you for awhile, so I have a certain baseline of respect that everybody gets. I really like that.

One more brief point, my sensei keeps telling us "don't forget to forget". This is because we're trying to access that "other" way of memorizing. That body memory, where turning right "just feels right". Thinking gets in the way. Ask your guest if they feel they are enlightened. I doubt they would say memory has much connection to their base happiness.