Moonwalking with Einstein

I’ve been at a conference, on vacation, and travel for family stuff, so I’m way behind. So here goes to try and catch up for a lot of my reading in the past few weeks.

I’ll start out with Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. A wonderfully interesting book about memory, identity, expertise and obsession (just a bit). It combines history, colorful personalities and an interesting narrative (Foer becomes part of the story, and it works in this case). I think this one would be worth reading by almost anyone – and as a teacher I found it fascinating and thought provoking. By the time it was done, I really wanted to learn how to memorize a deck of card in under a minute. Though I doubt I can justify devoting the time to the project, but still (I say wistfully)…

Let me highlight a couple of interesting things:

1) The history of memory was fascinating, and especially how central memory was in education in the past. It raises questions about modern education…

2) What happens to our identity when we externalize our memory? Something seems to be lost, and for those of us who find tradition and story important, there are some important implications.

3) The idea of what it takes to be an expert is important (and is a theme that will show up in a later book!). There is a pattern of expertise that crosses numerous disciplines (memory is only an example); 10,000 hours is a number bandied about. It’s less about native intelligence and more about discipline and time investment. Something to encourage my students about.

4) One chapter I found somewhat poignant. Foer begins to question the genuineness of a person who claimed to have a natural, stroke induced extraordinary memory. His detective work, though inconclusive, seemed pretty solid to me. But the social dynamic involved as he confronted the person was almost painful. Just a reminder of how hard it is to really know and how we are often forced to function with our best guess.

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