August 13, 2005

Mental exercises.

An Instapost this morning:
THE WORLD MEMORY CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETITION is going on now at Oxford University. The current champion is Ben Pridmore, 28, who can memorize a pack of cards in 32.13 seconds. I wonder if the people who actually have the best memories use their super power to do things like memorizing packs of cards. Shouldn't they want to fill their heads with things that will be beautiful or useful to think about – volumes of great literature or the complete tax code and regulations, perhaps? But no. Competition is intrinsically rewarding. My question is like asking the fastest runner why he competes in the Olympics instead of running around looking at the trees and flowers or traveling back and forth to work.
I'll bet you think that people like Pridmore must be lacking in other mental qualities, like that fellow in "The Mind of a Mnemonist." Most relatively smart people want to be even smarter but are still not all that concerned about not having an extremely strong memory. Yet having a great memory would be awfully useful!

What would you memorize if you had a superpower for memorizing?

Would you perform memorizing stunts for the public's entertainment? Would you enter some line of business (or form of gambling) where memorizing something would give you a great edge? Would you pursue memorizing as matter of pure pleasure or enlightenment?

If you could choose a great mental power – not a supernatural power, but just get into the top 0.0001% of human abillity – would you chose memory? If not, what power would you prefer and would you be worried that extreme memory powers would degrade some other aspect of life?


L. Ron Halfelven said...

I could have sworn they told me it was next week. Darn! I would have won, too. Time to call whatsherface at the travel agency and find out if my ticket to Cambridge is refundable.

Menlo Bob said...

For some reason I cannot remember the cell phone numbers of my wife, son or daughter and I'm unable to decern the difference between the names Josh and Jake.

Joseph White said...

I think I'd prefer to have the superability to make connections, i.e., intuition, which would be more useful in my opinion than just pure memory.

Big Hal said...

I would memorize The Oxford Book of English Verse which covers the thirteenth through the end of the twentyth centuries. I've alwasy admired folks who can spout an appropriate chunk of poetry at the drop of a hat.

Amongst my co-workers and friends I have what is regarded as a somewhat frightening memory, I can repeat conversations verbatim days and weeks after the fact and remember complex software commands and strings of IP addresses that they have to look up. The only problem is that my memory is so good that I tend not to take notes, so if I do forget or misremember something it can have serious consequences.

Big Hal said...

Oh and maybe a dictionary or two so I could actually spell.

Drethelin said...

Memory I think could be quite useful in the right situations, but right now I would far prefer to have the ability to intuitively understand how other people feel, especially about me.

Dick said...

My gosh, what gives here? This is Saturday, tomorrow is a day of rest and you have just given me a month of Sundays of Cogitation.

Jim Lindgren said...

When David Steinberg started in stand-up, he did a bit about God offering a biblical figure (Solomon?) one wish.

Solomon thought for a while and told God he wanted all knowledge.

God then granted Solomon's wish and gave Solomon ALL KNOWLEDGE.

Immediately, Solomon knew he should have asked for money.


You ask about 1 in a million intellectual talents. I'm not sure about that, but if you increased it to one in a hundred million, then, offhand, the intellectual talent I'd want would be the ability to write so well and so fluently that I could, any time I desired, write intelligent, extraordinarily successful best-selling fiction.

That would give me the time and money to pursue my more academic interests, as well as the skill to convey my scholarship more effectively.

Earth Girl said...
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Earth Girl said...

Big Hal gave my answer to your first question. My grandmother and her siblings would quote poetry at length and I remember sitting at their feet entranced.

This is probably not intellectual talent, but, like Solomon, I would want wisdom - more than memory (data) or knowledge (more data). I suffered through corporate hell when they decided to pursue "knowledge management." Working in a creative department, I could track the process through the fact gathering stage, then there was magic, and the process proceeded through production. It drove the KM guys crazy because they could not reproduce the magic part of the process.

Ann Althouse said...

Jim: I should have put in more zeroes! Yes, a talent for storytelling, for creating new things, would be much better than the ability to remember things that already exist (and that ordinary people can just write down). It would be fun and financially and socially rewarding.

Joshua said...

Memory. Definitely memory. Then you could really see what open-source intelligence could accomplish!