Total Recall – The Ultimate Weapon

Remembering the face of the enemy

So far, we have discussed some key terms and very powerful concepts, but you might have found it hard to take the preceding material and apply it immediately to your life. We will dispense with strategic thinking for a moment, and return to it at a later time. In this chapter, I want to show you something more substantial and easier to use right now. Let me provide you with the tactical edge of memory enhancement.

The importance of memory in school is an extremely controversial topic. Most teachers tend to play down its importance, while proponents of memory skills insist otherwise. Yet it should be obvious that without good memory, it would be virtually impossible to perform well in school, or elsewhere.

If a student forgets the information learned in class, he or she will not be able to answer the questions on a test or exam. It’s that simple. In other areas of life, the ability to remember something – the name of a person, for example – could determine the outcome of a business deal, or a social interaction. The advantages of better memory usage are so important, that if you read nothing else in this book except this chapter, your performance in school – and other areas of life – will still be dramatically improved. Enhanced memory capacity is like a plasma rifle – more precisely: “A phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range.” – in our war against the obstacles preventing us from peak achievement.

Sequential Access – The Basic Technique

Turning abstract concepts into more tangible ones

What’s a plasma rifle, you ask? It’s a high-tech weapon that any self-respecting cyborg would have in his arsenal. When you want to terminate something, the way to go is to blow ’em up with a plasma rifle. You probably already know what a rifle is, but what is plasma? Most people might not have come across that word. Here’s the textbook definition:

A gas consisting of ionized atoms and electrons.

So what does “ionized” mean? Here’s another definition:

An ion is an atom that has become electrically charged by the gain or loss of one or more electrons.

Therefore, “plasma” is electrically-charged gas, and a “plasma rifle” shoots a “bullet” of this electrically-charged gas at an enemy.

Now that you sort of know what plasma is, suppose you had to remember it for an astronomy exam. How can you guarantee that you will remember what plasma is? You will have to remember all those other names of planets and stars, and who Plato was (remember him from the preceding chapter?) and why Copernicus was so great. In fact, with the myriad of information on the subject of astronomy, the definition of “plasma” might somehow evade you when you come across that question on the exam. But never fear, just picture the following image in your mind:

Your plastic mother, is eating a bowl of batteries, and she burps and says “Excuse me.”

Now isn’t that strange? Let’s try again to envision what is happening in that scene. Really picture your own mother, now made of plastic – imagine her bouncing around, with coiled telephone cord for hair – sitting down eating a gigantic bowl of AA-sized batteries (with or without the Energizer Rabbit for company) , chewing on the metal (with a sickening sound), and then burping in front of you!

Now here’s the meaning of that silly image:

Plastic Mother = Plasma
Giant Battery = Electrically-Charged
Burp = Gas

So now you remember that plasma (plastic mother) is electrically-charged (batteries) gas (burping).

This image will long endure in your mind. If I ask you what plasma is one year from now, you will probably still remember it. The reason why this method is so much more effective than rote memorization is because your mind is specialized to remember strange and unusual things. It does not function well in remembering boring and dull material.

You can observe this fact yourself. If you try to remember what you’ve done in your lifetime, I doubt you will remember exactly each and every footstep you’ve ever taken, or how many times you breathed yesterday, or even the colour of the shoes of the fifth person you passed by since leaving the house. These mundane and trivial facts are boring to your mind. If it were to spend too much time on these facts, you wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the more important things in your life. In fact, this selectivity in memory function is, like the quest towards efficiency, a survival trait. This time, however, this inborn survival trait can be trained to become an advantage in the modern world.

Although you may not remember the “small stuff,” you will most likely remember what you did on your birthdays, what the best Christmas present you ever got was, or who your very first best friend or lover was. You will also probably remember the details of particularly good Bart Simpson or Seinfeld shows, especially the really wacky and funny ones. Whenever your mind finds something interesting, it will strive to remember it. Your mind will find something interesting if it is funny, if it is life-threatening, if it evokes an emotional response from you, or if it is puzzling or strange. The original reason why your brain was designed to remember these types of things was probably to maximize your chances of survival in the jungle. Anything that is puzzling can be a potential aid, or a hazard. A person of the opposite sex is a potential mate for reproductive purposes. Remembering the events that led to a near-death incident would contribute to prevention of this kind of event in the future. If our ancestors forgot all these things, their chances of surviving or reproducing would be severely limited, and humans might not have lived till today – and invented schools, textbooks, classroom participation, and the final exam. So, in a nutshell, if you want to remember special concepts, make sure that you rework the terminology to make up strange, nonsensical, unusual, and interesting images, such as a “plastic-mother.” You should add action and sound and colour and basically put as much energy into the image as you can. Let your imagination run wild. Nothing is too weird. Remember, the only thing that counts is whether or not you can remember the material on the exam. If you have to think of really outrageous images, then do so. Nobody else is going to know anyway, except yourself.

Random Access – The Peg System

Independence from sequence

Let’s take another example. This time, I’ll use some material from John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene’s excellent book entitled Megatrends 2000. John and Patricia talk about the various patterns of change in the world today. They list ten of these “megatrends,” and they are:

  1. The Booming Global Economy of the 1990’s.
  2. A Renaissance in the Arts.
  3. The Emergence of Free-Market Socialism.
  4. Global Lifestyles and Cultural Nationalism.
  5. The Privatization of the Welfare State.
  6. The Rise of the Pacific Rim.
  7. The Decade of Women in Leadership.
  8. The Age of Biology.
  9. The Religious Revival of the New Millennium.
  10. The Triumph of the Individual.

If we had to memorize this for an exam, we should look at the key concepts in the selection. Here is the exert again, this time with keywords emphasized:

  1. The Booming Global Economy of the 1990’s.
  2. A Renaissance in the Arts.
  3. The Emergence of Free-Market Socialism.
  4. Global Lifestyles and Cultural Nationalism.
  5. The Privatization of the Welfare State.
  6. The Rise of the Pacific Rim.
  7. The Decade of Women in Leadership.
  8. The Age of Biology.
  9. The Religious Revival of the New Millennium.
  10. The Triumph of the Individual.

Let’s create some powerful images with the keywords:

Booming Global Economy – Earth (global) exploding in space(booming)
Renaissance – the Mona Lisa (Renaissance art)
Free-Market Socialism – flea-market (free-market) and soda (socialism)
Global Lifestyles – Glow-In-The-Dark (global) all-bran (“Life” brand)
Cultural Nationalism – Gnat (nationalism) Cult (cultural)
Privatization / Welfare State – A soldier (private) falls into a well (welfare)
Pacific Rim – Pacman (pacific)
Women in Leadership – Margaret Thatcher
Biology – a frog, or any other “lab animal”
New Millennium – HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey (millennium)
Individual – Indecent Video, a sex scene (individual)

Now, suppose we not only have to know each concept by itself, but also the number of the concept in the list of ten. This time, we will use what is known as the peg-system of memory, a generic term for this skill in memory systems. Leave the megatrends list for a moment and read the following descriptions:

A pencil is number one (it looks like the number one)
A tulip flower is number two (“tu” = two)
A tree-house is number three (“tree” = three)
A table is number four (four legs)
A hand is number five (five fingers)
A pair of dice is number six (six sides to each die)
A mirror is number seven (smashing it causes seven years’ bad luck)
A pair of skates is number eight (skating the figure eight in an ice-rink)
A cat is number nine (nine lives)
A telephone is number ten (ten digits)
Read the list over a few times, until you are sure you remember the item, and the number it is related to: One – pencil; two – tulip; three – tree-house; four – table; five – hand; six – dice; seven – mirror; eight – skates; nine – cat; ten – telephone.

Now that you have remembered the peg list, it’s time to attach information to each of the pegs (or slots for memory items):

A large balloon of the Earth (global) is spinning in space until a giant pencil (one) comes along and pierces the Earth, causing a massive explosion with a big Boom! (expansion) = Booming Global Economy (number one)

A giant tulip (two) grows out of Mona Lisa’s (renaissance) head, and she screams her head off = Renaissance in Art (number two)

Up in a tree is a tree-house (three) and in the tree-house is a flea-market (free-market). The people in the flea-market are being washed out of the tree-house by an enormous flood of soda (socialism) = Free-Market Socialism (number three)

A giant gnat (nationalism) stands high up in a table (four) at night and while glow-in-the-dark all-bran (global lifestyles) flakes fall from the ceiling, gives a speech to the cult (cultural) members sitting on the floor = Global Lifestyles & Cultural Nationalism (number four)

A soldier (privatization) is running in the battlefield when an enormous hand (five) shoots out from a well (welfare) in the ground, grabs him, and pulls him screaming and fighting back into the well = Privatization of the Welfare State (number five)

Now, finish the process by inventing images yourself with the remaining peg numbers and the rest of the megatrends list. Then, for practice, try to recall the entire megatrends list, and write down the concepts on paper in order. Then, write them down again in reverse order. Next, ask someone to test you. Tell them to say a number, while you tell them the concept that belongs to that number. Finally, change over, and tell them the number when they name the concept. You should be amazed at yourself. You probably got all of the concepts memorized for good now. If you didn’t do so well, perhaps some of the images were not as vivid as they should have been, or they did not work for you. Everyone’s mind works differently. What my brain finds interesting may not appeal to yours. If you wish, change the peg list, the megatrends images, or both. Do that now, until you can remember the list perfectly.

You now already know the basic mechanism for superior memory power. Just by applying what you have learned so far will boost your grade performance to new heights. These memory techniques will work with all subjects, but you may have to modify their usage with certain items such as mathematical equations, or scientific data. We will discuss these later, but for now, practice your new skills on other lists of items. Perhaps you want to remember the first ten technological inventions starting with the wheel, or ten famous people in history, or the top ten Fortune 500 companies. The possibilities are endless. You may want to test yourself again tomorrow, or the day after that. If you manage to recall all the items, that’s great. If not, then look at which items you recalled easiest, and which ones you couldn’t recall at all. Look at the memory images you used. Were they vivid enough? Did you make the scene funny, or ridiculous? Was there any action? Colour? Sound? Danger? With practice, you should be able to create better images, and soon you will be able to memorize almost anything, and have total recall.

When you have finished with your preliminary practice, your next task is to expand your peg list. Your present list of ten items is very limited. If you use it for different types of ten items, it should work fine as long as your images are not too similar to one another. However, if you need to memorize a list of items in a certain category and those items exceed the list, you will confuse yourself if you try to start again at number one (pencil) and re-use the list. You’ll be hard pressed to figure out if a certain item is number one, or eleven, or twenty-one. So you have to expand your peg system.

Try to create up to 20 pegs, then 30. After that, you may expand it up to even 100 items if you wish. Just be sure that each number has a peg item that has meaning attached to the number. For example, 52 could be a calendar, since there are 52 weeks in a year. Or it could be a deck of cards. The number 12 could be a clock, which has twelve numbers on its face. Be sure to use concepts that have meaning for you, because you will be the one using the peg list, and you will be the one attaching information onto it.

After a while you will start to realise that you are really using your brain with all these exercises. Using your memory in this way could sometimes cause mental fatigue, or a “headache.” This is normal. Your brain is an organ, and it too can get tired, but remember that just like other organs in your body, the more you use it, the healthier it becomes, and the better it can function. Keep training your brain, and eventually your memory skills will be almost automatic, and you will find that sometimes even without constructing memory-stories, you will be able to remember new information effectively.

When you feel ready to go on, let’s take a look at some examples of how these memory skills can be modified to be specifically applied to certain tasks.