Memory Improvement: Mnemonics, Tools, or Books on the Topic?

post by Capla · 2014-11-21T18:59:57.447Z · score: 9 (10 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments

I want a perfect eidetic memory.

Unfortunately, such things don't exist, but that's not stopping me from getting as close as possible. It seems as if the popular solutions are spaced repetition and memory palaces. So let's talk about those.

Memory Palaces: Do they work? If so what's the best resource (book, website etc.) for learning and mastering the technique? Is it any good for memorizing anything other than lists of things (which I find I almost never have to do)?

Spaced Repetition: What software do you use? Why that one? What sort of cards do you put in?

It seems to me that memory programs and mnemonic techniques assist one of three parts of the problem of memory: memorizing, recalling, and not forgetting.

"Not forgetting" is the long term problem of memory. Spaced repetition seems to solve the problem of "not forgetting." You feed the information you want to remember into your program, review frequently, and you won't forget that information.

Memory Palaces seem to deal with the "memorizing" part of the problem. When faced with new information that you want to be able to recall, you put it in a memory palace, vividly emphasized so as to be affective and memorable. This is good for short term encoding of information that you know you want to keep. You might put it into your spaced repetition program latter, but you just want to not forget it until then.

The last part is the problem of "recalling." Both of the previous facets of the problem of memory had a distinct advantage: you knew the information that you wanted to remember in advance. However, we frequently find ourselves in situations in which we need/want  to remember something that we know (or perhaps we don't) we encountered, but didn't consider particularly important at the time.  Under this heading falls the situation of making connections when learning or being reminded of old information by new information: when you learn y, you have the thought "hey, isn't that just like x?" This is the facet of the memory problem that I am most interested in, but I know of scarcely anything that can reliably improve ease of recall of information in general. Do you know of anything?

I'm looking for recommendations: books on memory, specific mnemonics, or practices that are known to improve recall, or anything else that might help with any of the three parts of the problem.

 

 

29 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-11-21T21:31:14.904Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The best textbook on memory I'm aware of is Baddeley Eysenck Anderson. It is quite good, but some of the definitions are vague, so you'll need to reference Wikipedia,.

Memory palaces, more formally known as Method of Loci, are well-supported by the academic literature. Brienne's presentation is a fantastic introduction, in line with all the academic literature I've read.

I use Anki. It gets the job done quite well, and although other software may be just as good or better, I'm left with no desire to try anything else. See janki method for implementation suggestions.

I'm in the middle of a course on memory; according to my notes, making outlines is a good way of studying for a test and thinking about things in terms of future plans is "perhaps the best way of remembering stuff" (so, if I wanted to remember regular expressions, I might imagine doing this with them).

According to Scott, bacopa is "a memory-enhancing drug that performs very well in studies"—assuming you take it consistently for 3 months. According to my soylent spreadsheet, this is the most cost-effective source. According to Reddit, this is source with the lowest amounts of heavy metals (which are well within limits set by FDA). Reddit also has dosing recommendations. Apparently is also an axiolytic, so yay. Note that bacopa tastes nasty, so many people pay a bit extra for pills, although I find the taste trivial to deal with if I have a glass of water to wash the powder down with.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-11-22T09:27:49.112Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

this is source with the lowest amounts of heavy metals

Which source?

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-11-22T15:50:57.850Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nootropics Depot. If you dig around the comments of the Reddit link, you'll find that it's the same one as the first one in the OP there.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T22:02:43.021Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm in the middle of a course on memory

I want to take that course. I was looking around, but it may be easier to just ask: is there an easy way to watch the lectures, perhaps for free?

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-11-21T23:17:59.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is an easy way of watching the lectures. It involves paying Harvard University $1,250 whenever the class is next offered. Their video streaming is on par with Youtube circa 2007, but at least it works.

There is also a free way of watching the lectures, but it involves me breaking a contract I made with Harvard University, which I'm all manner of unwilling to do. However, they've made the video to the first lecture publicly available in the course description, so there's that.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T23:34:22.688Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Am I correct that I get course credit as a part of that bargain?

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-11-21T23:36:20.859Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes (4 credits).

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T02:11:21.561Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you haven't already done this, optimizing your nutrition and exercise routine might matter more than mnemonics?

http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v9/n1/full/nrn2298.html http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v9/n7/abs/nrn2421.html

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-12-07T05:35:35.376Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'll give you that nutrition/exercise is very high on the list of things to do to optimize memory, but I'm skeptical that it's more important than mnemonics.

Personally, movement from fairly wretched nutrition/exercise to Lifestyle Interventions to Improve Longevity/Optimal Exercise-compliant nutrition/exercise has helped lots and lots, but (for the limited cases it applies), Method of Loci helped more.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-22T02:54:28.111Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

is this person on lesswrong? I found this

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-11-22T03:19:07.787Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Brienne Strohl

comment by Capla · 2014-11-22T03:39:59.746Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I thought so. I've already sent her a message.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-21T21:07:40.269Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I want a perfect eidetic memory.

It's on of those things you shouldn't wish an AGI to give you. It basically translates into wanting to be learning disabled. Human intelligence is about pattern matching and you can't see the forest if you mind sees every tree.

Spaced Repetition: What software do you use? Why that one?

Anki. Because it is feature rich and gets the most development. Features like the undo button are useful. Complex card templates and plugins are also useful.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T21:48:19.796Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

and you can't see the forest if you mind sees every tree.

Why not? I'd just ask to see every tree and the forest. Transcending current human limitation is exactly what the singularity is god for.

comment by Emile · 2014-11-22T13:59:38.282Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

exactly what the singularity is god for

... I'm not sure whether that is a misspelling ... (Freudian slip?)

comment by Capla · 2014-11-22T21:20:22.025Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It was a misspelling, but I decided to keep it.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-22T12:57:35.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You don't. Those humans who have something approaching eidetic memory can't do pattern matching very well.

Human memory doesn't work like computer memory. The brain makes tradeoffs between being able to remember individual pieces of information and abstractions of them.

See my stackexchange post.

comment by btrettel · 2015-01-05T03:37:15.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By far the best memory/learning book I have read is Your Memory by Ken Higbee. This book has both explanations of how your memory works and more practical information about how to use different learning and mnemonic methods.

You definitely can improve your memory. However, after finishing reading the book, I had a much more realistic idea of what to expect from my memory. I realized that memory in general is a really hard problem and my brain is doing a pretty good job, actually. In some sense, my memory "improved" relative to what I thought was possible without using any techniques.

The author would think your quest to achieve an eidetic memory is impossible, and not exactly desirable. They discuss a case where someone had an excellent memory, but could not make connections when reading, e.g., they could not realize that baby and child referred to the same person. I'm not very sure, but I tend to believe that having "perfect" memory is undesirable after reading this book.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-11-22T08:48:22.123Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've gotten good results just from listening to some of the podcasts from this series. For example, it points out that you can only remember what you've paid some attention to, and how to pay more attention. There's also a piece about developing clearer memories of your past, and one about how to intentionally build associations and understanding which wil make it easier to remember what you study.

Unfortunately, it isn't cheap-- I caught some of it when the podcasts were free. This kind of thing is typically free for each podcast for a couple of days, and then discounted for a little while afterwards.

The lecturer was Vera Birkenbihl-- she seems to have a lot of material available in German, but very little in English.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-22T11:16:42.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know that the "learning strategies" company is a purveyor of all manner of frauds and quackery. I once bought an "Aura Seeing" course from them and they are most famous for their Photo-reading program. That said, some bits are reputable or founded on fact. Can you vouch for these in particular?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-11-22T23:53:31.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't listened to all of the podcasts in the memory course, but of those I listened to, there was no new age material, and all of it seemed at least sensible.

Would someone who knows German be willing to check out Birkenbihl's material and/or reputation?

I've also listened to some of their Win Wenger material, and there are dubious new age elements, but his hypnosis might at least be useful for cheap fun.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-26T16:20:29.539Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I know Birkenbihl was NLP trained but didn't use the label herself for the stuff that she did. She also got a degree in psychology. She was highly paid management consultant/speaker.

While not advocating something like Quantum Healing she does have a program in which she says she teaches something "Quantum" with boils down to using things like Heisenberg uncertainity as a metaphor.

Wikipeadia notes that she was diagnosed with Asbergers.

She's not teaching something that would qualify for the label evidence-based, but then nearly no top management consultant does.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-21T20:24:21.922Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Initially I though: How is recalling different from remembering aka not-forgetting? Given a query/question/fact find the answer(s)(matching fact(s). But you seem to imply something different. I take it remembering is the question-answer pairing. What could recalling be? My idea is that it means answers to relevant questions which just weren't memorized. Probably because there are just too many of them.

So I think it is an interesting idea to separate these concepts. But chould you provide two short definitions to make your distinction clear?

comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T21:44:10.863Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I'm following you. Can you rephrase?

"Memorizing" is intentionally encoding information for ease of later recall.

"Recalling" is becoming aware, consciously, of encoded information, whether it was intentionally memorized or not, in response to a question, to a similar circumstance, or most generally a domain in which that information is relevant. It is primarily, having the "right" encoded information be jogged in a particular instance (that you are reminded of relevant cashed thoughts) and secondarily, the ease and completeness with which that information is brought to conscious awareness.

Not forgetting is safeguarding specifically and intentionally memorized encoded information from decay.

There is a difference between forgetting apiece of information (so it is no longer encoded) and not being able to access it at the appropriate time. It is of course true that if you have forgotten information you will not be able to access it, so you need to "not forget" in order to recall" but in practice we can't make sure to not forget everything, on the off chance that it might be useful one day. So, it is useful to be able to accurately recall relevant information that has begun to be forgotten. If someone with good "recall" and someone with poor "recall" each have a memory that is close to being forgotten, the one with good recall will be able to access it better.

As an analogy: memory is a conveyer belt, with bits of information that are riding on it. If a given piece of information gets to the end, it falls off (is forgotten). Everything you recall a bit on information, you pick it up and put it at the beginning of the conveyer belt. You can make a habit of continually putting important information back at the beginning of the belt when a signal light that is about the fall off turns on (spaced repetition), which is "not forgetting", but you can also increase your reach, so that you can easily get at things that are getting close to then end. Since there are to many pieces of information on your conveyer belt to put every piece back at the beginning when it reaches the end, it's helpful to extend your reach, to be able to get at more of the information on the belt more easily.

I'm no expert. Those who know how memory works, does this analogy make sense?

I often find that If I have a conversion with someone, months latter, I am better able to recall specific details (both key and trivial) than they are. I assume that this is because I am better at the skill of recall, since in theory, our memories of the event should be in a similar state of decay, but now that I think about it, it is possible that 1) I encoded the conversation better in the moment (perhaps by paying closer attention?) or 2) I recall it more frequently and so have it closer to the beginning of my convey belt.

Maybe "recall" is a constant, not a skill that can be improved? Memory experts, what do you have to say?

I know that if you ask me, I can give you a summery of the plot of almost any book I've read in the past 4 years (though now I think I have to go over my book lists and test this rigorously). I know that I can tell you actually where we were and what we were doing, as well as give you a play by play of many (not all conversations). I know that if I re listen to a bit of podcast or audio book, I know the exact spot where I was walking when I last heard it. It feels like "recall" is a skill, but maybe it's only a result of the other two.

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-11-21T21:49:31.510Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Memory researchers do, in fact, make a distinction between accessibility (can I retrieve a memory?) and availibility (does the memory trace exist?).

comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T21:57:33.282Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, great. General accessibility is what I mean by "recall." Any other terms that I should be familiar with for this discussion?

comment by richard_reitz · 2014-11-21T22:12:06.981Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. Lots of them. Right now, my memory deck has about 200 cards, and I'm only about 2/3 done with the course. I'll point again to Baddeley Eysenck Anderson. You seem primarily interested in long-term memory (although that may be an artifact of not knowing a lot about memory; a large benefit of having a textbook on memory is to point out "unknown unkowns"), so here are some big ones off the top of my head.

Implicit and explicit memory (also known as declarative and nondeclarative, respectively).

Episodic and semantic memory (are subsets of explicit/declarative memory)

Also procedural memory (a subset of implicit/nondeclarative memory).

You should also be aware of the testing effect and distributed practice, which, along with forgetting curves, form the basis of Spaced Repetition Software. Since many things don't lend themselve to Anki, like riding a bike, it's enormously beneficial to know about these independently.

Also Source monitoring, which leads to my favorite term, cryptomnesia.

Consolidation.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T22:29:34.738Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You seem primarily interested in long-term memory

Primarily, but not exclusively. If there are tricks by which I can look at page for 3 minutes and then recite it from memory, I want to hear bout them.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-21T22:19:20.674Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Recalling" is becoming aware, consciously, of encoded information, whether it was intentionally memorized or not, in response to a question, to a similar circumstance, or most generally a domain in which that information is relevant.

Yeah. That is the definition that I wanted and these circumstances are the 'relevant questions' I meant. The implicit context of the facts in which you might recover the information.

Spaced repetion e.g. with an Anki deck helps memorize facts - but if you don't apply these facts and relate them to other think, apply and use them they are isolated and will not become available in the contexts you seem to imply.

Use it (the memory of the facts) or loose it.