Joshua Foer

Joshua Foer

Author of Moonwalking with Einstein

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON August 20, 2015

Discussion

Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
Hello, Joshua Foer here, science journalist, author of Moonwalking the Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, and co-founder of Atlas Obscura. Ask me anything.
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
Thanks everyone for being here. Thanks for all your questions. THanks @eriktorenberg for hosting me. Thanks @cmschroed for making the connection. I've got to go pick up my son now. If anyone wants to follow up by email, feel free to write to me at joshuafoer@yahoo.com.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@joshuafoer Let's all thank Josh for taking the time to give us some great thoughts. This was fantastic. And personal thank you to @cmschroed for making the connection. Excited to see your LIVE Chat soon
Thomas
Thomas@thomasp423 · UI Designer, Zazn App
@joshuafoer What inspired you to write Moonwalking with Einstein?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@thomasp423 It all started with this Slate article: http://www.slate.com/articles/ne.... Once I discovered that anyone could perform these incredible feats of memory, I realized I didn't really know the first thing about how my own memory worked. I set off on a year-long quest to find out. At the end of that year I ended up winning the USA Memory Championship.
Cal Bachand
Cal Bachand@calbachand
@joshuafoer What are you top 3 favorite books?
Graham Mumm
Graham Mumm@grahammumm · Learning is Life
@calbachand As a related question, what book was the most insightful when trying to understand the history of mnemonics and memory?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@grahammumm Asking me to pick my 3 favorite books is just unfair, but I'm willing to pick my three favorite books on the history of memory. They are: the Art of Memory by Frances Yates, the Book of Memory by Mary Carruthers, and Logic and the Art of Memory by Paolo Rossi.
Todd Kleinhans
Todd Kleinhans@toddkleinhans · Sr. DBA
@joshuafoer Do you think memorization is a gateway to creativity? I'm looking to memorize a lot of content and was wondering about its affect on creativity.
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@toddkleinhans One of the things I talk about in Moonwalking is how memory and creativity were regarded as two sides of the same coin during the middle ages. One had to have a good inventory of ideas in order to invent anything new (both words--inventory and invent--stem from the same Latin root). I'm skeptical though that memorizing a lot of facts is going to have any effect on your creativity. That said, when I was training for the US Memory Championship, I don't think I was really training my memory, I was training my ability to create really funny, weird, strange, beautiful, gory, lurid images in my mind's eye as quickly possible. So in a way, I guess it was a kind of creativity I was trying to develop.
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@joshuafoer Just to add on to that: if you're creating strange, novel imagery in your mind's eye, remembering takes care of itself.
Todd Kleinhans
Todd Kleinhans@toddkleinhans · Sr. DBA
@joshuafoer Using creativity itself to attack a memorization problem, gotcha. I was thinking more along the lines of memorizing a lot of poetry/text- wondering if that kind of memorized content could lead to new ideas. In MWE you mentioned Shas Pollak- I was wondering about the art (if any) they created post memorization.
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@toddkleinhans My recollection is that the Shas Pollak were specifically noted for NOT having made any great insights. They were first-rate memorizers, but that didn't necessarily make them particularly wise or creative.
Chris Schroeder
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
Joshua: how is your memory today as compared to your championship days? And does it affect you as an entrepreneur?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@cmschroed Hi Chris, thanks for making the connection to bring me here. When I was competing on the memory circuit I was a veritable mnemonic Lou Ferrigno. Today I'm a bit of a schlub. I couldn't compete at a high level today, without getting my nose back to the grindstone.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey @joshuafoer! Thank you for joining us :) Is there something your particularly interested in in the technology space?
Todd Kleinhans
Todd Kleinhans@toddkleinhans · Sr. DBA
@joshuafoer I am playing around with using virtual reality using an Oculus DK2 and Epic Game's Unreal Engine to build memory palaces and journeys. It is a lot of work. What are your thoughts on learning content or experiencing travel destinations using virtual reality? Have you had a chance to try VR yet?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@toddkleinhans I haven't had a chance to really delve into VR. But I'd love to. I'm sure these tools will be a part of the future of education.
Brent Summers
Brent Summers@brentsum · Founder, Code-Free Startup
@joshuafoer how do you see online education changing in the next decade?
Brett Watson
Brett Watson@brettewatson · Learner
@joshuafoer Thanks for taking questions. I was a huge fan of MWE! What current projects are you working on?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@brettewatson Thanks. I'm working on a book about hunter-gatherers. Over the last three years, I've been spending time in the Republic of Congo, living with a group of Yaka pygmies, who are the largest remaining group of active hunter-gatherers left on the planet.
Brett Watson
Brett Watson@brettewatson · Learner
@joshuafoer Very interesting! Why did you chose that as your next project?How do they organize themselves to sustain the hunter-gather lifestyle on such a scale and during modern times? Also, have you used any memory techniques in everyday life recently, or even in Congo with the pygmies?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@brettewatson This project grew out of a National Geographic story I wrote about chimpanzees in the Congo: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.co.... I ended up more fascinated with the people I met living in the forest than the chimps I was there to write about. I vowed to come back and spend more time with them. First though I had to learn Lingala, the national language of the Congo. So I memorized the Lingala-English dictionary. That was a very practical use of memory techniques, which I wrote about for the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/educa...
Andrew Liebchen
Andrew Liebchen@andrewliebchen · Product designer @ Facebook
@joshuafoer Have you thought about starting Sukkah City again? Thought the premise of the competition was great, even if the execution was un-even.
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@andrewliebchen It was a one-off event. Ephemeral, like the sukkah. I'm thrilled that it has inspired others to create similar events in other cities.
Andrew Liebchen
Andrew Liebchen@andrewliebchen · Product designer @ Facebook
Aw, too bad. Hoped it would eternal, like Sukkot. @joshuafoer
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@joshuafoer what's the meaning behind the title of your book, Moonwalking with Einstein? P.S. awesome TED Talk:
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@rrhoover Thanks. You've got to read the book to find that out! But I will say that that image helped me to set (at that time) a US record by memorizing the order of a shuffled pack of playing cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds.
Lukas Fittl
Lukas Fittl@lukasfittl · Product Hunt
@joshuafoer I've loved "Moonwalking with Einstein", such a great book that distills the science of remembering things into understandable words! Since its been a few years since you wrote the book - whats been keeping you busy? Any new projects coming up? :)
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@lukasfittl Thanks! Besides the hunter-gatherer book, Atlas Obscura has been keeping me busy. Keep an eye out for the Atlas Obscura book next year.
Kurt Meadows
Kurt Meadows@kurtmeadows · LibStash
Hey Joshua, what was your inspiration for moonwalking the einstein?
Kurt Meadows
Kurt Meadows@kurtmeadows · LibStash
is this something you discovered over time, or just how you started learning?
Phil Spitzer
Phil Spitzer@spitza · co-founder, AskAway
@joshuafoer Hi Joshua, I loved MWE, thanks. What do you think are the most practical use cases for these memory techniques in everyday life?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@spitza The techniques for remembering names are undoubtedly handy in everyday life. I use the major system for numbers all the time. The memory palace is useful for remembering speeches, but it takes work.
Elliot Nash
Elliot Nash@nasherasher · getnashty.com
Hey Joshua, I really enjoyed your book! Do you still find yourself employing the memory techniques you mastered?
Farbod Saraf
Farbod Saraf@farbodsaraf · Co-founder Everboard.io (YC SUS17)
Have you mentioned anything regarding spaced repetition techniques such as leitner or srs in your book? What's your opinion on them? I'm curious since i feel it really works for me however not sure if it's placebo!
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@farbodsaraf Not a placebo at all! Spaced repetition is super effective. I regret not writing more about it in Moonwalking, but I did write about it in this article for the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/educa...
Farbod Saraf
Farbod Saraf@farbodsaraf · Co-founder Everboard.io (YC SUS17)
@joshuafoer thanks for your answer, shall i ask specifically which speced repetition technique you're using personally?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@farbodsaraf Check out memrise.com. It's an app created by Ed Cooke, the main character in Moonwalking with Einstein.
Mike Coutermarsh
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
@joshuafoer 😎what's the weirdest thing you do that helps you be super productive? And that none of us already know :)
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@mscccc I observe the Jewish sabbath. Which felt very weird when I started doing it, but now feels impossible to live without. Means I don't touch my phone or computer from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I can no longer imagine how people survive without at least 24 hours of forced disconnection. I think "non-productive" time is essential to being "productive."
James Lethem
James Lethem@sycren · Head Mentor of Google Launchpad
Hi @joshuafoer Would the world be a better or worse place if it was possible to download memories?
Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer@joshuafoer
@sycren We already do download our memories every time we write something down, make a recording, take a photograph. But I'm guessing you have something for science-fictiony in mind.
James Lethem
James Lethem@sycren · Head Mentor of Google Launchpad
@joshuafoer True, I was looking further into the future. In a video you described who we are by the experience/memories that we have gained over time. We're only really breaking the surface in tech research into the mind aka Electroencephalography > https://emotiv.com/ where we have a semblance of outward control through the reading of our brain waves. I was wondering whether you thought that the world would be a better place if it was possible to download memories and to explain further I mean that another person can view ones memories, add, delete and modify. I believe that we're swiftly approaching where this could be possible and that we should have something in the next 10-20 years. PROs - Upgrade memory (like a computer), learn things/skills fast etc. CONs - Degradation of organic memory, memory erasion becomes the new death of self etc. I know this is a weird question, but thanks for answering it.