How I memorized 100 digits of Pi

After reading the book from Joshua Foer Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything I was fascinated by what our memory can do. Joshua Foer is a journalist who won the U.S.A. Memory Championship in 2006. His journey in the field of memory started not long ago when Joshua interviewed a group of competitors in a memory tournament.

One of the participants Ed Cook – a Grand Master of Memory – tried to convince Joshua that anyone could memorize, among other things, hundreds or thousands of random digits. Joshua was very skeptical, but he accepted the challenge. Ed started coaching Joshua and within a year he went from a regular person to a memory champion.

By the end of the book, I was able to understand better how my own memory works, and I wanted to give it a try. At first sight, the process seemed quite complicated, but after reviewing the process, I can guarantee it is simple. The basic idea is founded on the so-called ‘Mnemonic major system’ which converts numbers 0-9 into words using its consonants. For example ‘druid’ is the number 141 because d = 1, r = 4 and d = 1. Similarly, ‘Libyan’ = 592 because l = 5, b = 9 and n = 2. So each number corresponds to one consonant. After you have a list of 34 words for all 100 digits of pi, the second step is to put them in order on a memory palace using the ‘Method of Ioci’. The idea here is to have a strong range of ways to recover those words later on.

You should use a physical place that you are familiar with (such as your house) to build a story of yourself interacting with those words in a logical order. The story should be exaggerated and crazy, so it will stick in your memory. In the previous example, for the word ‘druid’, you can imagine yourself coming back from work and while parking your car you see a gigantic monster druid in your parking space. You run away from the druid and when get to your front door, the Libyan Muammar Gaddafi is there, waiting for you. That gives you 141592 – the first six decimals of Pi using two words.

So, what is the goal of all this and is there any value? Well, this was just a teaser of what memory can do. Learning how to use techniques to boost our memory can help us understand how it works and how we can use it for our benefit. After this exercise, I was much more self-aware of why I remember and why I forget things. Memory is our connection to the past and to accumulated knowledge, and if used correctly can help us demonstrate our skills to other people. Some skills, we know they are there from previous learning, but hidden and lost in the deepest places of our minds.

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