Why did I open the refrigerator door? Where'd I put my keys? What was the title of the book that whosie told me about?
Well, the name of that book is Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, and for anyone with even a passing interest in memory — how it works, and when and why it doesn't — Joshua Foer's illuminating investigation into the historical, cultural, physiological and psychological aspects of human memory is essential reading.
At once a witty, engaging first-person account of a freelance writer with average recall skills who goes on a yearlong training regimen to compete in the U.S. Memory Championship, and an illuminating overview of how memory has been used from the time of Simonides to now — when Google has essentially become our default hippocampus — Foer's book is remarkable, and also remarkably practical.
Memory, Foer writes, was "once a cornerstone of Western culture." In pre-Gutenberg days, the educated and erudite would recite poems and philosophical treatises, but the printed page began to change all that. Internal memories, once imprinted in our brains, could be laid down with movable type. The value placed on memory deflated as information became disseminated in books, newspapers, television.
And now, with search engines and smart phones, there really is no need to keep the stanzas of T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or Bogey's "hill of beans" speech from Casablanca locked in your noggin.
"Competing to see who can memorize more pages of poetry might seem beside the point," Foer says, reflecting on his run in the Memory Championship. (You'll have to read the book to see how he fares.) "But it's about taking a stand against forgetfulness, and embracing primal capacities from which too many of us have become estranged."
And speaking of primal capacities, what did I do with my hat?