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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Shopping for Wonders

Hi All,
Thanks for taking the time to check out my second instalment of ‘Mental Miscellany’
If you read my introduction you might be wondering what colour I attempted to implant into your mind last week.
The colour was RED, I estimate that I was successful with at least 90% of you, feel  free to add any comments on here, I got some good feedback and some of you had interesting theories, so thanks for that.
OK, last week I mentioned that I would talk a little about mnemonics in this post.
Mnemonics is the study of memory and typically anything related to memory work tends  to be quite boring, frustrating and in general pretty difficult. Well, the good news is that this does not have to be the case. Memorising anything can be simple, quick and fun.
In a moment I am going to teach you how to remember a list of items. However, before I do, I just want to make you aware of some psychological memory biases (these are funny little mental quirks that people tend to have, some you’ll recognise and think, oh yeah, and some others will, hopefully, be new to you.)
So here we go:
Hindsight bias (you should know this one): the inclination to see past events as being predictable; also called the "I-knew-it-all-along" effect. This one is really annoying when other people experience it.
Google effect: This is the tendency to forget information that is easily retrievable on the internet. Watch out for this one. As a general rule of thumb, if you are looking up the same information more than 5 times a year, you should probably memorise it.
And now for some that are a little stranger:
Illusory correlation – inaccurately seeing a relationship between two events related by coincidence. You would be surprised at how often that happens. Here Ireland a lot of people attribute the good weather we experience around this time of year to the fact that 50,000 2nd level students are sitting their Leaving Cert exams (similar to GCSEs for UK readers)
Tip of the tongue phenomenon: when a subject is able to recall parts of an item, or related information, but is frustratingly unable to recall the whole item. This is thought to be an instance of "blocking" where multiple similar memories are being recalled and interfere with each other. If you are experiencing this, lets say it’s the name of an actor, the best strategy is to focus on things related to the actor, what films was he in? What scandals was he part of etc? This will trigger his name quicker than trying to remember it outright.
Okay, I’ll just reference 2 more before it gets boring:
List-length effect: a smaller percentage of items are remembered in a longer list, but as the length of the list increases, the absolute number of items remembered increases as well. Weird huh!
And last but not least,
Memory inhibition: When shown some items from a list it makes it harder to retrieve the other items.
So if you have a shopping list, the longer the list the more items you will remember but if someone mentions a few items on the list, you may not be able to remember anything else on the list!!
So one strategy would be to write a really long shopping list and get someone to tell you to remember the few key items you really want to buy.
Sounds crazy, that’s because it is, I’ll show you a much better way to remember everything on a list of any length 100% of the time.
Shopping for wonders
So, my list is not going to be a shopping list, but you could use this method for just that.
We are going to attempt to memorise 7 wonders of the ancient world.
Just mentally check if you can recall them. You will probably get one of them, maybe 2 or 3 but probably no more.
To do this we need to mentally learn off a journey in our head. A simple one like home to work or your house to a friend’s house, it does not really mater, once you have physically taken the journey lots of times and can visualize it in your head.
To describe this I will use my own route, you just need to super-impose the method onto your own journey and tweak the descriptions to suit the journey you develop.
Let’s begin
So starting at my house I mentally picture my house in the shape of a big yellow pyramid with a rough looking guy standing at the gate trying to sell me stuff, he’s a geezer (english slang for a streetwise guy) you could also picture a geyser spewing hot water into the air.
So this picture is The Great Pyramid at Giza
At the next point in my journey (which is a neighbours house I pass) I see their front garden is hanging suspended by a chain, there are also several babies sitting on the lawn crying. This is of course The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Next stop, is a friend’s house (quite a sporty family by the way, the father was once an olympic contender) and outside in the garden is a big statue of a person with gold shoes. This is The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Next stop is the Catholic church around the corner, there is lots of paintings on display on the steps and Jesus is looking at them and pondering the art work. This is The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
On to our 5th wonder which is at a crossroads with a pedestrian crossing. Climbing up the lamppost is a mouse licking molasses off the post and he jumps onto a rope ladder hanging off a helicopter and is flown away. This is The Mausoleum of Mollassus at Halicarnasus
On to another crossroads there is a big metal statue 6 stories high, it is The Collosus at Rhodes
Our final stop is my friend Alex’s house, All the lights are on and it is quite blinding, it is of course The Lighthouse at Alexandria
That is the 7 wonders of the ancient world memorised using the journey method. Now, this will be in your short term memory for a few hours after one memorisation, but to get this into your longterm memory you need to use spaced repitition. It only takes about 20 seconds but later on today, once a day for a week, then less frequently until it is just once every few months, run through the journey in your head and you will have no problem recalling the 7 wonders at any time. I usually run through my memory journeys whilst going to sleep at night.
Some other things I’ve learned using this method  include:
The periodic table, the 10 longest rivers in the world (incl. their length) and Shakespeare’s 37 pieces of work in the order they were written.
There are other, slightly more complicated methods I use which I might go through in another blog post, these are used to memorise decks of cards, 100 binary digits, phone numbers etc., till then, enjoy using the journey method.
Next week I’ll discuss some interesting items realted to my favourite topic ‘coincidence’, in the meantime let me know how you get on memorising the 7 wonders  in the comments section or if you need help memorising anything, let me know and I can develop a  simple strategy for you.
Best Regards,
Sea