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The importance of committing facts to memory

19 May

In an article in last week’s New York Times, we find this:

The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

Regular readers know that I think this fundamentally misguided. Knowledge remains and will remain essential to negotiating the world. To see why let’s turn to another article in the Times: “If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They’re More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy.”

Here’s the map of where the surveyed individuals placed North Korea.

nkorea map

According to the Times:

Geographic knowledge itself may contribute to an increased appreciation of the complexity of geopolitical events.

By the way the quadratic equation is not that hard to learn.

Using a memory palace to learn a chapter of Moby Dick

22 Feb

A good example of how to use a memory palace:

Mnemonic trick for converting between Fahrenheit and Celsius

9 Jan

From the always interesting Benny Lewis:

Eponyms as mnemonics

10 Aug

Did you know that Melba toast was named after Dame Nellie Melba of that the word “nicotine” honors Jean Nicot de Villemain? These examples are from Alex Novak’s book Tawdry Knickers and Other Unfortunate Ways to Be Remembered: A Saucy and Spirited History of Ninety Notorious Namesakes

Eponyms can be powerful mnemonics and you can find a long list of them here.

Dewey Decimal System Mnemonic

1 Aug

Here is a first letter mnemonic for the potentially useful task of learning the Dewey Decimal System:

Generally, philosophical religionists see language scientifically to favor literary history.

Category Catalog Number Mnemonic
General Works 0 Generally
Philosophy and psychology 100 philosophical
religion 200 religionists
Social Science 300 see
Language 400 language
Science 500 scientifically
Technology 600 to
Fine arts 700 favor
Literature 800 literary
History 900 history

Adapted from Evans (2007)

How to remember KIC 8462852

26 Oct

I am fascinated by the very remote possibility that observations of the star KIC 8462852 may be evidence for an extra-terrestrial civilization.

I don’t have the competence to evaluate or comment on the evidence. What I can do is help you to commit the name “KIC 8462852” to memory.

First, you need to know the Dominic System and the Peg System,  they will take you only a few minutes to learn and its worth effort.

KIC stands for Kepler Input Catalog, but it might help to remember it as Kentucky Intergalactic Chicken (perhaps what they serve at the Star Wars bar).


Now, in the Domonic System 84 translates to HD – think Humpty Dumpty


62 is SB or Sleeping Beauty


85 is HE, why not Happy Easter?


Now we have one more digit 2 so lets use the Peg System and represent it as a shoe.


So just think of Humpty Dumpty, Sleeping Beauty, celebrating a happy Easter all nestled inside a shoe. The more ridiculous and vivid you can make the image the easier it will be to remember.

Now you’ll sound really smart.

How to memorize a formula

18 Sep

Yesterday, I blogged about a mnemonic for learning the quadratic equation. Here is an excellent video that teaches a general mnemonic technique for formula memorization:



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