Hack Your Memory With the Method of Loci

February 18th, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

In this New York Times Magazine article, writer Joshua Foer recounts his year-long journey from having an average memory to becoming a U.S. record holder at the U.S.A Memory Championship. Foer and other mental athletes use techniques such as the Method of Loci or “memory palace” based on the Rhetorica ad Herennium, a Latin rhetoric textbook from the 90s BC. Basically, you construct a “palace” in your imagination and fill it with imagery that represents whatever you need to remember. A bear juggling cabbage might stand for the king of hearts, for example (the more bizarre, the better). Once you’ve constructed your visual palace, you can bring it up at any time and walk through it, recalling each item in order. The best mental athletes can use the Method of Loci to “memorize the first and last names of dozens of strangers in just a few minutes, thousands of random digits in under an hour and — to impress those with a more humanistic bent — any poem you handed them.”

“What you have to understand is that even average memories are remarkably powerful if used properly,” Cooke said. He explained to me that mnemonic competitors saw themselves as “participants in an amateur research program” whose aim is to rescue a long-lost tradition of memory training.

[…]

When the researchers looked at the parts of the brain that were engaged when the subjects memorized, they found that the mental athletes were relying more heavily on regions known to be involved in spatial memory. At first glance, this didn’t seem to make sense. Why would mental athletes be navigating spaces in their minds while trying to learn three-digit numbers?

The answer lies in a discovery supposedly made by the poet Simonides of Ceos in the fifth century B.C. After a tragic banquet-hall collapse, of which he was the sole survivor, Simonides was asked to give an account of who was buried in the debris. When the poet closed his eyes and reconstructed the crumbled building in his imagination, he had an extraordinary realization: he remembered where each of the guests at the ill-fated dinner had been sitting. Even though he made no conscious effort to memorize the layout of the room, it nonetheless left a durable impression. From that simple observation, Simonides reportedly invented a technique that would form the basis of what came to be known as the art of memory. He realized that if there hadn’t been guests sitting at a banquet table but, say, every great Greek dramatist seated in order of birth — or each of the words of one of his poems or every item he needed to accomplish that day — he would have remembered that instead. He reasoned that just about anything could be imprinted upon our memories, and kept in good order, simply by constructing a building in the imagination and filling it with imagery of what needed to berecalled. This imagined edifice could then be walked through at any time in the future. Such a building would later come to be called a memory palace.

Secrets of a Mind-Gamer

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Tips From a Professional Liar

February 9th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

We’ve touched on how to detect a liar, and now here’s a look into the deceptive practices of former “professional liar” Clancy Martin. He shares a couple of tips in this kottke.org blog post from his experience in the luxury jewelry business, where a lie could often mean a little additional profit. According to Martin, the key to a convincing lie is learning how to first deceive yourself.

As I would tell my salespeople: If you want to be an expert deceiver, master the art of self-deception. People will believe you when they see that you yourself are deeply convinced.

[…]

And the customer will help in this process, because she or he wants the diamond — where else can I get such a good deal on such a high-quality stone? — to be of a certain size and quality. At the same time, he or she does not want to pay the price that the actual diamond, were it what you claimed it to be, would cost. The transaction is a collaboration of lies and self-deceptions.

Meet a former professional liar

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How to Detect a Liar

February 7th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Being able to identify a lie is a useful skill to have under your belt, and can work to your advantage in countless situations.  This article at The Art of Manliness introduces the art of detecting a liar. It’s an interesting read, but I’d like to point out that none of these techniques are foolproof.  Most of the time what you’re doing is looking for signs of increased anxiety and mental exertion which do often accompany a lie, but can be present due to other factors. Never trust these techniques completely, but instead use them as a “heads up” that maybe you’re being deceived.

Have you ever been burned by somebody because they told you an outright lie? It can happen in your personal or business life-you’re on cloud nine when your girlfriend says she loves you, only to find out later she’s been cheating on you for months; a client says their business is solvent, but they end up bankrupt, and you lose a ton of money on an account.

Wouldn’t it be great to avoid these situations by being able to tell right then and there if someone is lying to you? Well, based on research by behavioral scientists and the work and experience of FBI agents and police officers, a system has been developed to help people become human lie detectors.

Below we provide a short introduction to the art of sniffing out a whopper. Ready to get started? Read on.

Become a Human Lie Detector: How to Sniff Out a Liar

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8 Unconventional Ways to Relieve Stress

February 7th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Staying cool under extreme circumstances can be key to your survival. This list from Zen Habits contains some rather surprising tricks for relieving daily stress and tension, so that you can stay composed and levelheaded when things get out of hand.

As we move through our daily routines we are often faced with obstacles and challenges which can lead to some degree of stress and anxiety. So to become more relaxed and free of tensions it is important to break away from your ordinary routine and find ways to de-stress. This process can be very simple or more in depth, but why not try something new and different? Here are 8, not your everyday ordinary, ways to de-stress and release tensions.

8 Unconventional Ways to De-Stress and Release Tension

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The Mythical Tricks of Magic Meet Psychology

November 27th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Scientific American Mind recently came out with a wonderful article on the use of magic in psychology. In it, they break down some tricks magicians and con artists use to manipulate your mind.

One of my favorite things learned was something I’ll coin TTTNTTSBT. Or, the thing that’s not there that should be there. Basically, the TTTNTTSBT illusion plays with your nerve endings and your touch feedback. A magician in the video (at the end of this post) pushes a coin against the subject’s forehead, then quickly pulls the coin away without her observation. The implant of the nerves on the forehead, tricked by the pressure, still believe that the coin is there, and thus the subject believes the coin is there as well.

The TTTNTTSBT also works for pickpocketing watches: putting casual pressure on the skin above the watch will give the sensation that the watch is still there even after one takes it. But one simply can’t take a watch without distraction first. And that’s the next thing the video explains.

The video explains how as humans, we use what are called mirror neurons to watch what others are paying attention to and pay attention to that instead of what we should be paying attention to. This is classic misdirection, and magicians constantly do this, pretending to pay careful attention to things that they want the audience to pay attention to.

Humor is also used as a distraction, as well as banter, or a constant stream of speech intended to draw the subject’s attention to what you are saying. But the most helpful distraction tip was simply throwing as many things as possible as the subject, to overwhelm their senses. In the clip, the pickpocket is constantly touching the subject in different places, firing up the nerves to get used to this attention grabber, and eventually taking away the attention from the slight brush in the wallet pocket.

Buy the book, Slights of Mind, referenced to in the video and support Lone Iguana.

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Unlock an Airplane Bathroom Door from the Outside and More Evil Tricks…

October 29th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

As part of their “Evil Week” series of posts, Lifehacker shares this surprisingly simple trick to unlocking one type of airplane lavatory door. Simply lift the little “Lavatory” sign above the lock, then slide the now exposed lock open. Hit the links for pictures.

  • Step 1: Approach locked lavatory
  • Step 2: Lift “LAVATORY” sign
  • Step 3: Slide the knob into the unlocked position
  • Step 4: Cackle because you’ve just unlocked the bathroom from the outside

HowTo: Unlock the airplane lavatory door (from the outside) via Lifehacker

Many more tricks are being featured on Lifehacker. Here are just a few a bunch more:

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Six Tricks for Conquering Fear

August 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Everyone has to deal with fear and uncertainty at times. This post contains six simple techniques to conquer fear and use it to your advantage.

Fear isn’t your enemy; it is through fear and hardship that we grow the most. When you think about it, if your life was free from any challenges, it would be fun for some time, but ultimately it would get pretty boring as you skated through each day without any challenges.

Fear is the spice in our life and using it to your advantage can make the difference between being miserable and being happy. But before you can do that, you should probably know about the following 6 ways to conquer fear and make it your ally.

6 Deceptively Simple Ways to Conquer Fear

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Another Uncrackable Code [Story Time]

April 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Another tale of an uncrackable code.

The former Air Force sergeant wore a backpack on his bearish 6′5″ frame; a sawed-off shovel handle stuck out of the top as he made his way along soft creek beds, avoiding hiking trails. Inside the pack was a night-vision monocle and a pile of classified material he had stolen from his longtime employer, theNational Reconnaissance Office — the US agency that manages the nation’s spy satellites.

Tale of a Would-Be Spy, Buried Treasure, and Uncrackable Code

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Build an Alias, Step 1: Find a Name [Disguise]

April 6th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Need a disguise quick? First, you need a name. Having trouble finding a good name? First, look around you and see if you can find some an object you can use as a name. For example, as I look around myself now, I see a pencil with the word “Dixon” on it and a note to self that says to reinstall OS X. My new alias could be Oz (from OS) X. Dixon. But, if you fail at this task, you could try the always helpful online name generators, my favorite being Fake Name Generator.

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Be Smarter: Believe [Brain Screwers]

February 1st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

According to a Lifehacker article, believing you can be smarter makes you smarter. This is a helpful pointer for screwing with your brain and others.

Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, many people believe that intelligence is fixed, and, moreover, that some racial and social groups are inherently smarter than others. Merely evoking these stereotypes about the intellectual inferiority of these groups (such as women and Blacks) is enough to harm the academic [performance] of members of these groups. Social psychologist Claude Steele and his collaborators (2002) have called this phenomenon “stereotype threat.”

Yet social psychologists Aronson, Fried, and Good (2001) have developed a possible antidote to stereotype threat. They taught African American and European American college students to think of intelligence as changeable, rather than fixed – a lesson that many psychological studies suggests is true. Students in a control group did not receive this message. Those students who learned about IQ’s malleability improved their grades more than did students who did not receive this message, and also saw academics as more important than did students in the control group.

Believing You Can Be Smarter Actually Makes You Smarter

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