Words their way within word pattern sorts pdf found myself in the spring of 2006. Sitting to my left was Ram Kolli, an unshaven 25-year-old business consultant from Richmond, Va. To my right was the lens of a television camera from a national cable network. The audience was asked not to take any flash photographs and to maintain total silence.
Not that Kolli or I could possibly have heard them. Both of us were wearing earplugs. On a table in front of me, lying face down between my hands, were two shuffled decks of playing cards. The unlikely story of how I ended up in the finals of the U. Memory Championship, stock-still and sweating profusely, began a year earlier in the same auditorium, on the 19th floor of the Con Edison building near Union Square in Manhattan. I was there to write a short article about what I imagined would be the Super Bowl of savants.
They referred to themselves as mental athletes, or M. I asked Ed Cooke, a competitor from England — he was 24 at the time and was attending the U. World Memory Championships — when he first realized he was a savant. Photographic memory is a detestable myth. In fact, my memory is quite average. All of us here have average memories. Earlier I watched him recite a list of 252 random digits as effortlessly as if it were his telephone number.
Today we have books, photographs, computers and an entire superstructure of external devices to help us store our memories outside our brains, but it wasn’t so long ago that culture depended on individual memories. A trained memory was not just a handy tool but also a fundamental facet of any worldly mind. It was considered a form of character-building, a way of developing the cardinal virtue of prudence and, by extension, ethics. Cooke was wearing a suit with a loosened tie, his curly brown hair cut in a shoulder-length mop, and, incongruously, a pair of flip-flops emblazoned with the Union Jack.
He was a founding member of a secret society of memorizers called the KL7 and was at that time pursuing a Ph. Cooke and all the other mental athletes I met kept insisting that anyone could do what they do. These techniques existed not to memorize useless information like decks of playing cards but to etch into the brain foundational texts and ideas. If only I could learn to remember like Cooke, I figured, I would be able to commit reams of poetry to heart and really absorb it. How many worthwhile ideas have gone unthought and connections unmade because of my memory’s shortcomings? At the time, I didn’t quite believe Cooke’s bold claims about the latent mnemonic potential in all of us.
Cooke offered to serve as my coach and trainer. Memorizing would become a part of my daily routine. Except that I would actually remember to do it. 2003, the journal Nature reported on eight people who finished near the top of the World Memory Championships. The study looked at whether the memorizers’ brains were structurally different from the rest of ours or whether they were just making better use of the memorizing abilities we all possess. Researchers put the mental athletes and a group of control subjects into f. There was, however, one telling difference between the brains of the mental athletes and those of the control subjects.
When the researchers looked at the parts of the brain that were engaged when the subjects memorized, they found that the mental athletes were relying more heavily on regions known to be involved in spatial memory. At first glance, this didn’t seem to make sense. Why would mental athletes be navigating spaces in their minds while trying to learn three-digit numbers? The answer lies in a discovery supposedly made by the poet Simonides of Ceos in the fifth century B. After a tragic banquet-hall collapse, of which he was the sole survivor, Simonides was asked to give an account of who was buried in the debris. My trainer and all the other mental athletes I met kept insisting that anyone could do what they do. When the poet closed his eyes and reconstructed the crumbled building in his imagination, he had an extraordinary realization: he remembered where each of the guests at the ill-fated dinner had been sitting.
Even though he made no conscious effort to memorize the layout of the room, it nonetheless left a durable impression. From that simple observation, Simonides reportedly invented a technique that would form the basis of what came to be known as the art of memory. It is the only comprehensive discussion of the memory techniques attributed to Simonides to have survived into the Middle Ages. The techniques described in this book were widely practiced in the ancient and medieval worlds. Living as we do amid a deluge of printed words — would you believe more than a million new books were published last year? Gutenberg, when a book was a rare and costly handwritten object that could take a scribe months of labor to produce. Mary Carruthers, a walking index of everything read or learned that was considered worthwhile.
And this required building an organizational scheme for accessing that information. When the point of reading is remembering, you approach a text very differently from the way most of us do today. They had only a few books — the Bible, an almanac, a devotional work or two — and they read them over and over again, usually aloud and in groups, so that a narrow range of traditional literature became deeply impressed on their consciousness. Part of the reason that techniques like visual imagery and the memory palace work so well is that they enforce a degree of mindfulness that is normally lacking.