Sunday, February 27, 2022

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

"Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything" by Joshua Foer is the first book I have read in a loooooong time. Being a parent definitely eats in to your free time.

The premise of this book is the author's journey into winning a national memory championship using the method of loci, also called the memory palace technique.

I cannot vouch for this method. I haven't tried it and I am too lazy!

Here are some excerpts:

 1. Parts of the brain: a great analogy

For all the advances that have been made in recent decades, it’s still the case that no one has ever actually seen a memory in the human brain. Though advances in imaging technology have allowed neuroscientists to grasp much of the basic topography of the brain, and studies of neurons have given us a clear picture of what happens inside and between individual brain cells, science is still relatively clueless about what transpires in the circuitry of the cortex, the wrinkled outer layer of the brain that allows us to plan into the future, do long division, and write poetry, and which holds most of our memories. In our knowledge of the brain, we're like someone looking down on a city from a high-flying airplane. We can tell where the industrial and residential neighborhoods are, where the airport is, the locations of the main traffic arteries, where the suburbs begin. We also know, in great detail, what the individual units of the city (citizens, and in this metaphor, neurons) look like. But, for the most part, we can't say where people go when they get hungry, how people make a living, or what any given person's commute looks like. The brain makes sense up close and from far away. It’s the in-between—the stuff of thought and memory, the language of the brain—that remains a profound mystery.

2. We have always heard about the perception of time with age - time starts flying faster with age. Here's a possible explanation.
Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That's why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

3. Why its easier to remember images than facts

..our memories aren't perfectly adapted for our contemporary information age. The tasks that we often rely on our memories for today simply weren't relevant in the environment in which the human brain evolved. Our ancestors didn't need to recall phone numbers, or word-forword instructions from their bosses, or the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum, or (because they lived in relatively small, stable groups) the names of dozens of strangers at a cocktail party. What our early human and hominid ancestors did need to remember was where to find food and resources, and the route home, and which plants were edible and which were poisonous. Those are the sorts of vital memory skills that they depended on everyday, and it was—at least in part —in order to meet those demands that human memory evolved as it did. The principle underlying all memory techniques is that our brains don't remember all types of information equally well. As exceptional as we are at remembering visual imagery (think of the two-picture recognition test), we're terrible at remembering other kinds of information, like lists of words or numbers..

4.  In the fourth   first place...

Cicero agreed that the best way to memorize a speech is point by point, not word by word, by employing memoria rerum. In his De Oratore, he suggests that an orator delivering a speech should make one image for each major topic he wants to cover, and place each of those images at a locus. Indeed, the word “topic” comes from the Greek word topos, or place. (The phrase “in the first place” is a vestige from the art of memory.)

5. The brain is a taxing organ.

The brain is a costly organ. Though it accounts for only 2 percent of the body's mass, it uses up a fifth of all the oxygen we breathe, and it’s where a quarter of all our glucose gets burned. The brain is the most energetically expensive piece of equipment in our body, and has been ruthlessly honed by natural selection to be efficient at the tasks for which it evolved. One might say that the whole point of our nervous system, from the sensory organs that feed information to the glob of neurons that interprets it, is to develop a sense of what is happening in the present and what will happen in the future, so that we can respond in the best possible way.

6. How indices changed books and the need to remember them fully

..Along with page numbers and tables of contents, the index changed what a book was, and what it could do for scholars. The historian Ivan lllich has argued that this represented an invention of such magnitude that “it seems reasonable to speak of the pre- and post-index Middle Ages.” As books became easier and easier to consult, the imperative to hold their contents in memory became less and less relevant, and the very notion of what it meant to be erudite began to evolve from possessing information internally to knowing where to find information in the labyrinthine world of external memory..

7. About speed-reading

 When the point of reading is, as it was for Peter of Ravenna, remembering, you approach a text very differently than most of us do today. Now we put a premium on reading quickly and widely, and that breeds a kind of superficiality in our reading, and in what we seek to get out of books. You can't read a page a minute, the rate at which you're probably reading this book, and expect to remember what you've read for any considerable length of time. If something is going to be made memorable, it has to be dwelled upon, repeated.

8. Bruce Lee on plateaus

Ed sent me a quote from the venerable martial artist Bruce Lee, which he hoped would serve as inspiration: “There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.” I copied that thought onto a Post-it note and stuck it on my wall. Then I tore it down and memorized it.

9. A critique of memory for the sake of memory

The seventeenth-century philosopher Francis Bacon declared, “I make no more estimation of repeating a great number of names or words upon once hearing ... than I do of the tricks of tumblers, funambuloes, baladines : the one being the same in the mind that the other is in the body, matters of strangeness without worthiness.” He thought the art of memory was fundamentally “barren.”

10.  Our memories make us who we are

..How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember. We're all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually altering those habits, which is to say the networks of our memory. No lasting joke, invention, insight, or work of art was ever produced by an external memory. Not yet, at least. Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture: All these essentially human acts depend on memory. Now more than ever, as the role of memory in our culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are. They are the seat of our values and source of our character. Competing to see who can memorize more pages of poetry might seem beside the point, but it’s about taking a stand against forgetfulness, and embracing primal capacities from which too many of us have become estranged.. 

The best thing here...the friend who recommended this book is expecting to be a father in a couple of months. Best of luck for parenthood bro!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Kangri Dham

Being of Himachali descent means a lot of good things.

One of these is the ability to occasionally enjoy Kangri Dham, which is a ceremonial meal served in traditional style. It is much like langer in the manner of serving.

Rice is served with daal and chutney/maani/malanji etc.

What makes it totally unique is the different kind of chutneys (there are different names for them in Pahari/Dogri). Different kinds of daal and chutneys are served for the taste to come on waves of salt, sweet and sour.

On top of that eating it with your fingers makes it difficult. All you want to do is to stuff the unique goodness in your mouth as fast as possible...but your fingers are burning all the way.

Most recommended experience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene

 Laws of Human Nature is a great book by Robert Greene. It contains very basic but counter-intuitive facts about how the human mind works. It is similar to Greene's other books in terms of style: very relevant examples mixed with a good amount of theory/suggestion. Here are a few snippets:

Children are smarter than us