Dean Peterson admits he has a terrible memory. But he's found a way past it.
You may know Mr. Peterson as part of the team behind Vox's Election series videos. He's also a filmmaker who decided to share how he was able to memorize an entire chapter of Herman Melville's Moby Dick––that's no easy feat when you consider that A) The book is rather dense to begin with, and B) Peterson admits he has trouble remembering names, dates, and what he ate for lunch a few days ago.
Peterson was able to memorize the chapter over a period of four days. To start, he expresses his annoyance with the way people are generally taught to memorize. Flash cards don't work, he says. Neither does repeating information over and over until you bore it into your brain. These methods are largely ineffective.
What humans are good at, he says, is "remembering things when we have a context... we remember faces, we instinctively remember what song was playing when we had our first kiss, and we can effortlessly walk a few blocks to the store and back to our house without even having to think about it."
This is because the same part of our brain that is involved in "emotion and spatial navigation," the hippocampus, wields control over how we process short and long term memory.
With this in mind, Peterson uses the "memory palace" technique to tackle the chapter. Joshua Foer explores this idea in his book, Moonwalking with Einstein. According to Peterson, a memory palace is "a mnemonic technique that allows you to more easily memorize information by creating corresponding visual images that you mentally place along a path in a familiar location."
That’s how an angry Rachel Maddow wound up on the couch in my apartment with a calm Bernie Madoff.
For this video, I used a memory palace of my apartment to memorize chapter 37 of Moby Dick. In the middle there’s a line that reads: “I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself!"
I needed to remember that there were two “mad” words at the beginning, and that it was followed by “wild” and “calm.”
The image of the couch was easy for him to remember and contained enough clues for him to remember the aforementioned lines. He explains how he did it in the following video.