My short bio: Hey there Reddit, I'm Ed Cooke. I'm a memory hacker, and the co-founder / CEO of Memrise, which helps you remember languages and other information as fast as humanly possible, all for free. We got a fun subreddit here. On Memrise, you learn through memes, which make everything more memorable.

In other lives, I've done lots of writing. I wrote a book, was memory correspondent for the Times and did a guest piece for Tim Ferriss' the Four Hour Chef on learning cards.

Today I'm quite excited because we're launching our mad side-project CatAcademy, an iPhone app which teaches you languages through pictures of cats Think Rosetta Stone powered by lolcats.

Looking forward to your questions. Go ahead now, AMA!!

I'll begin at 2 p.m. EST

UPDATE 5 p.m. EST: just grabbing a bite of lunch. Will be back to answer any further questions in a bit. now back

UPDATE: 6 p.m. EST: Hey all- thanks so much for all your questions, this has been very fun! I'm unfortunately due somewhere else now, so have to fly. A pleasure to answer anything, and I'll pop back later to answer any further outstanding questions.

My Proof:

Comments: 206 • Responses: 68  • Date: 

Scribshanks77 karma

Three hours and no mention of the Alamo. Memory master my ass.

tedcooke26 karma


deadmanRise17 karma

What is your one best tip for improving memory?

What is your one worst tip for improving memory?

tedcooke40 karma

Best tip: relentlessly find what's interesting for you about what it is you're trying to learn. By doing that, you'll recruit from your mind all the connections that make up your sense of the world's meaning, and so be able to connect new information with what's already there. That's the essence of memory.

Worst tip: buy into any personal narrative (which almost all of us share in some way or other) that you have a "bad memory". This is almost never true, and the reason we feel that way is more often than not a failure to appreciate that we remember (cf good tip) what we find interesting and a lot less of everything else.

Worth saying that this latter point is a good design principle for our minds: no point remembering something that's irrelevant, after all.

tachyons2213 karma

I just want to say that I use Memrise and I love it. When will CatAcademy be in the Google Play store?

tedcooke9 karma

Ha, cool, glad to hear it. CatAcademy is coming to Google Play as soon as our Ceo @catacademyceo overcomes her fear of bots.

Or, more prosaically: early next year.

cybelechild11 karma

Hi! I just came here to mention that Memrise inspired me to write both my master's and my bachelor's theses on effective learning and memory, so a big Thank you! for that.

tedcooke9 karma

Hey wow! That's a wonderful thing to hear. Any chance you would email us a copy? We'd love to read it!

cybelechild3 karma

Sure, the original is not in English, and the translation could be better, but still...

tedcooke6 karma

do it- [email protected]

And pop by the office if you're ever in East London, and come have a natter.

enemydrag10 karma

Has there been an instance where you wish you could just forget something, but haven't been able to?

tedcooke41 karma

Yes- the fact I am basically a loser with no friends.

azarash3 karma

could this be related to the fact that even though you don't forget the bad things that happen you give them more importance over the good ones, creating a constantly bleaker visualisation of the people around you instead of a full image?

after all, even if you can recall all moments in your life, you probably dont use every moment to dictate your world view, just the ones that are more relevant to you (like that time your friend let you down)

tedcooke9 karma

This does happen in depression, where you get into habits of recall where you basically only remember and think lame stuff, and don't recall all the nice stuff.

That's why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (which gives you exercizes, not drugs, to change mental habits, yay!) recommends you think every day, for instance, of three nice things that happened. This brings them higher in memory, and chips away at the cycle of doom.

I'm mindlessly optimistic though, so my life, as I recall it (and as nobody else does) is one long parade of golden moments (five of them) interspersed with regions of ambiguous positivity (many of them) to yield a general sense that it's all ok, and I should probably stop complaining that my launderette lost one of my socks or whatever.

acflewis2 karma

Ed, was this designed to test how many of your friends were reading this?

tedcooke14 karma

lol, no it wasn't. All three of them are sitting across the table from me.

peetar9 karma

What is your earliest memory of being a child?

On a more serious note, are your techniques good for improving passive memory as well? Like if I'm always forgetting where I put my keys, or the list of things my wife told me to do when I was watching TV?

tedcooke33 karma

I only dimly remember my birth. I find it difficult, actually, to order childhood memories, and I have what we all have- namely "infantile amnesia" (love that term, reminds me of some of my friends after a night out), where there's basically no retained memories from the very first years of life.

My favourite, and I can't claim it's the first, memory from childhood, is my sense of astonishment when my dad explained that light enters the eye. I'd intuitively thought that my eyes went out and gathered the light.

For keys, one forgets their location for two interconnected reasons: a) the event of placing keys is not noteworthy (boring) b) we place them places without thinking about it, so conscious attention doesn't land on the act, so we forget.

The solution I've found works is to imagine your keys as, for instance, a set of miniature koala bears on a hoop. Feeling that they're alive, that they're vulnerable, means you pay that bit more attention, so recall where you left them (who'd forget where they left their pet koalas!). Another option is to play the sound of an explosion in your mind whenever you place them somewhere. Violence is great for memory :)

mowesen8 karma

Following up on "only wimps take notes" - What technique would you use to memorize a lecture while attending it? Is that simply a matter of getting really really good at palaces?

tedcooke13 karma

One of life's great joys is the live-memory-palacing of a talk.

I can't claim to do it all the time, but when it happens it's just so sweet: you end up not only able to basically repeat the talk, but also repeat it different ways, touring round the ideas as you like to tell them.

Here's the best way to do it:

Begin at a town square / hall in the centre of a building / a place where you can move in all directions.

b) put the main topic in the middle

c) make each branching road a sub topic

d) make each building or room down the road a point made in the subtopic

e) loop back every minute or two and race through what you've just done.

This even works if you're not creating imagery: I sometimes listen to symphonies or podcasts while imagining moving through space with my eyes closed, and it's incredibly useful for picking up themes and patterns and separating out all the ideas / phases so that you don't get confused.

I'd like to see an app which effectively plays video of a moving journey behind each sentence in a book- for the same reasons and intended effects.

mowesen1 karma

You are one proper genius. Also, that sounds a little like a mindmap in a palace. WHY on earth did I not think of this. Thanks!

tedcooke3 karma

Yup- basically a mind map with much more spatial texture, and zoomed in on to the extent that you can see it in much greater, more visceral detail.

UrbanFoxyWoxy7 karma

Which urban myths about improving memory are you aware of and which one do you find most amusing?

tedcooke12 karma

Photographic memory, and its existence. This is an idea that makes no sense at all: we don't even have photographic perception (witness research on change blindness:

Nobody has photographic memory. It wouldn't work if we did. Borges' story "funes the memorious" (a wonderful read) explores how incoherent the very idea is in a way that rewards looking at,.

Another myth I find funny is the bizarre and incoherent notion that "we only use 10% of our brains".

Imagine if someone claimed to you that you "only use 10% of your body" and that by going to a gym / doing this martial art you could use all of it.

azarash6 karma

I think the idea of the 10% of your brain is a twisted understanding of the concept that not all neurons are fiering at the same time.

Borges has some very interesting subrealistic work, I read a peace of his about a culture created around the idea that there is no cause and effect, but that eachmoment is separated, hard to follow, and with a ridiculously large vocabulary (at least on its original spanish) but interesting work.

tedcooke5 karma

oh wow, that sounds like a cool read. link to it would you if you can locate it, sounds epic

tedcooke3 karma

Yeah, I think it's a twisted version of that, and a twisted version of the concept of "potential", illicitly physicalized.

I think the need to relate the mental to the physical "this part of the brain does emotion / this part is where you're pretending to check your phone" is really damaging for cognitive science: too much brain-scanning, not enough interesting behavioural studies.

WrightSparrow3 karma

Sounds like he's talking about Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Can't get the link to work from my phone, there's a pdf if you search for it

tedcooke2 karma

ok sweet- thanks all. Seems like, as with all good things in life, that there's a reddit thread on that

puih1237 karma

At what point in your life did you start trying to memorize as much as possible? What's the process like for memorizing an entire poem/play word for word?

Thanks for doing the AMA!

tedcooke23 karma

Thank you for your question! It's a pleasure to be here.

I got into memory techniques when I was 18. I was in hospital with a crooked back, and, in an attempt to impress the nurses (as well as to pass the time- I was in a ward full of forgetful octogenarians), I decided to train my memory. Got a book by Dominic O'Brien, which led me to numerous other works, and with all the time I had, I was able to go pretty deep.

I'm happy to report that the nurses were not unimpressed, and it all wound up one evening with their sneaking me out of the hospital in a wheelchair to go to their local houseparties. Golden days.

puih1237 karma

Thanks for taking the time to answer, I really appreciate it. Moonwalking with Einstein blew me away that that kind of memorization was even possible. Very impressive!

tedcooke8 karma

Cool! You should give it a go. It's surprisingly fun!

Madjugah6 karma

If you were in a lesson, would you need to make notes at all? For example in Science

tedcooke20 karma

Only wimps take notes.

zosma6 karma

When you build you memory palaces do you find it better to use real locations or imaginary ones and if it is a real location how do you add more information to that particular loci?

tedcooke9 karma

Wonderful question.

I always begin with real spaces, and then when I have filled them up with memories, I tend to elaborate them with imaginary extra space.

You can do this in lots of different ways: adding doors to rooms that don't exist in walls, zooming into an object and making it its own world of memory, "duplicating" the whole building in a different / colour or mood.

I must say, I cannot wait till we have awesome 3-D environment memory palace tech. I hope we get round to doing that at Memrise one day.

My dream is to create a bespoke MMO game around Jaques Barzun's book "From Dawn till Decadence" which, by simply running around and playing, would teach you most of the themes and their interconnections in Western Culture.

Gravy-Leg__6 karma

Back in the days when engineers used tables of logarithms to do math and we had to use phone books to look up a number, memorization was a great asset to have. Now with the advent of computers and Google, memorization has slipped a little in utility.

How does having a sharp memory improve a person's productivity today?

tedcooke10 karma

Good question.

For anything that you'll spend more than 5 minutes of your life looking up, spending 5 minutes learning it (about what it takes, including all repetitions) is a pretty sound plan. There are a thousand things one does (from learning street names, people, where-to-find-stuff, etc) that will, in the end, massively increase productivity.

My sense of the importance of memory, though, doesn't attach directly to productivity. It's about growing your mind, being able to make associations, understanding stuff as it happens deeply, rather than after it happens superficially.

livando15 karma

As a founder of a startup have you done any programming? If so, how would you go about learning a programming language in regard to memorization?

tedcooke5 karma

I don't program, to my shame.

I know that a bunch of coders do find memorising the parts of a programming language extremely useful. As with any skill, coding is a mix of explicit (memorized) knowledge, and implicit know-how accumulated invisibly, sedimented you could say, through doing.

arblis4 karma

Do you think we should seek to memorize information for the sake of the memorization?

I know you have addressed capacity elsewhere but do you regard your project to expand only short term capacity?

I wonder how many of the memory stunts do you still remember? That is do you frequently the transition random information from the short to long term memory?

tedcooke5 karma

Hey @arblis

I think there's far too much that's interesting to know to make the game of memorizing information just for the sake of it an optimal statregy (why not learn something cool, like Hamlet?) but it's nonetheless pretty fun and good for the mind, and you'll discover lots of interesting things.

No, the memory stuff is for long term learning. All memories fade, but mnemonics and what not are there to keep memories in your head for the long term.

Good question on memory stunts: these I deliberately forget, because, well, what's the point of knowing 600 random digits? The way I forget is a) not repeating b) not caring (this must be cultivated) c) over-riding the information by using the same memory palace and learning new things within it.

savethebroccoli3 karma

have you always been really really good at remembering things? CatAcademy - genius, where in the hell did that idea come from?

tedcooke9 karma

I've always loved introspection, and that and memory aren't so far apart. You're looking inside your mind, making connections. But I only got into memory when I was 18 or so.

CatAcademy- pretty cool, eh? We got the idea because so many of the user-generated mems on memrise were of cats and other cute animals.

We thought- this is odd, but looking at the data we found they were very effective mnemonic devices. Probably because you pay attention, you feel good, and it works your imagination (also key for memory). So it went from there pretty much.

eatinchocolate3 karma

Do you think you are very gifted at memorizing things or anybody can do what you do with enough practice?

tedcooke5 karma

I'm gifted only in the sense that I really care about and enjoy it- and perhaps I'm reasonably imaginative.

For sure anyone can do it- it was that very question that led me to inviting the journalist Josh Foer to my memory pupil. He trained up for a year, and wound up winning the US memory championships that very next year. (See Moonwalking with Einstein).

Josh is frankly a very smart guy, but didn't (and doesn't) "have" an amazing memory: it's 95% technique, it really is.

acflewis3 karma

Are your memory techniques useful for day to day life?

tedcooke8 karma

Good question.

Yes and no. They're not automatic, you have to consciously put them into practice. So they can be immensely useful (for language learning, for remembering names, for things to do lists etc).

At the same time, it would be remiss for me not to mention that I recently forgot to renew the Memrise domain name, ahem, and the site went down for a day as a result. The problem was, I hadn't consciously decided to do it.

TsarOfCasm3 karma

I often hear things like "memorising new information makes you forget old information", is there any validity to this?

Thanks for the AMA

tedcooke5 karma

Yeah, there's a breath of truth to that, and an element of nonsense.

The first thing to say is that the memories that are uppermost in our minds are the ones we've been dealing with most recently. So if you go deep into a topic, you'll find it easier to recall related memories than other topics you went deep into in the past.

But fundamentally, memory is no zero-sum-game, quite the opposite. The more you know, the more connections you have to relate what you know to other information. Thus, the easier it becomes to learn more.

Finally, there's emphatically no limit to mental capacity: we can all learn vastly more than we do if we structured our learning and environment and motivations appropriately.

Last thought on this: because of the need to review what you've previously learned to keep it fresh, the speed at which you can add does probably decrease with the total sum of knowledge, because of more need for review.

So, like I said, what you hear has both truth and confusion in it :)

SaiMoi3 karma

Do you consider your memory capability a natural or acquired asset? How much does sleep affect your memory, and are there other key lifestyle choices that have an effect?

On a personal note, memrise has been a huge gift to me, a million thanks for the project. Also your fb page is da bomb.

tedcooke6 karma

Thanks @saimoi Very glad to hear you're enjoying Memrise. It's so lovely to know we're helping people (and amusing 'em on the Facebook feed :)

Memory capacity: we all have it (natural) and it can be enormously boosted through training (and paying attention, more generally), this a bit of the both really.

Sleep is massive for memory. Dreaming's function is almost certainly strongly memory-related. During REM the hippocampus engages in an elaborate dialogue with the cortex, playing over patterns that were experienced in the day, pruning, and firing out what's been stored into more robust and durable networks throughout the brain. I have a pal Adrien Peyrache who's doing some mad stuff in this area, he's really able to see newtorks of neurones in sleep imitating what they were up to in the day.

On a practical note, learning and especially reviewing before sleep is an excellent study strategy. Your brain will do a lot of work for you overnight if you can pick up the habit.

toliveistosuffer2 karma


tedcooke3 karma

Sleep is such fun, I recommend as much as possible. I tend to sleep 6 hours, but would recommend 8 for purposes of optimal cognition.

I'm sure it's very different for different people and at different times etc.

But on 8 hours, I feel cleverer.

ill_eat_it3 karma

Hi! I started learning memory techniques a few months ago and it's been going really well; I've memorised the periodic table and a few soliloquies (which have helped me in more than a few quotes tests :P).

My question: I find it more difficult to learn poetry because it's more abstract (I've been using the method of loci btw). Any tips?

tedcooke3 karma

Cool! Glad to hear that you're getting into memory techniques.

Poetry is very difficult. I use loci to map the lines, not the words. So I'll have an image for each line, sometimes two or three if it's very elaborate, and then I will recite the poetry with as much emotion as possible as I go through the memory palace in my imagination.

It takes repetition, but as you do it, you get to know the poetry to a depth quite impossible through casual reading.

When especially deep in my long-term project of trying to learn Paradise Lost (a project I'm still working on) I find myself able to speak Miltonically fairly effortlessly. One of the sweetest (and most pointless) pleasures I've encountered that life has to offer.

bigds012 karma

I literally can't remember names. I could use some tips here. It isn't for lack of IQ (143) or general memory, but I have a total block on names.

Any advice is greatly appreciated

tedcooke16 karma

Names are among the trickiest things to remember.

There are a few reasons for this

a) You're normally so busy smiling and trying to look like a normal human being when you meet someone that you don't pay any attention in the first place

b) names are meaningless. Back in the day when people were called things like "Bluebeard" and "Bignose the terrible" one had a fighting chance. When people are called Samantha Parker or Jerome Bush or Elouise Hale, no specific imagery comes to mind, so it's like trying to grab an invisible fish

c) We often meet people just once, and don't have the opportunity to review

d) Faces are tricky to perceive let alone remember. I always find that after I've known someone for a few hours, their face seems to change- it's as if I'm finally "getting it": till then, I'll often not really have visually understood what it is that they look like...

So what's the solution?

a) pay attention, say their name outloud and DON"T PRETEND YOU KNOW THEIR NAME if you missed it: this can lead to a long friendship where you call them "mate"

b) Use your imagination and associations with people who share the name to bring the name to life. Jerome Bush- imagine St Jerome in a Bush. Elouise Hale, imagine someone who's going to the loo in a hale storm or whatever

c) Review who you meet at the end of the day. Review who you've met at a drinks party or whatever every 20 minutes: it's very pleasurable, doing this, because it makes your mind clearer

d) Pay vivid attention to the face. Look for distinguishing features. Imagine them when they're old, young. Think what animal they most resemble.

All in all, to remember names, the advice is: get involved.

Dsvkb2 karma

Wow, just checked out the site. I'm loving the Japanese courses on there.

tedcooke3 karma

Cool! Get stuck in. We have some awesome content creators there, for sure. A lot of the mems there are an exquisite combo of the laugh-ut-loud and the acutely scholarly.

FunLuvinSal2 karma


tedcooke3 karma

Being visual is a cool start. Just try stuff out, find stuff you want to learn, especially stuff that will amuse your friends / make you more interesting to yourself, set aside ten minutes a day, and just give it a go.

ownedbyapyr2 karma

How are you at cards, will the casinos let you play?

tedcooke3 karma

The casinos hate me. I'm forced to don a disguise- always a different one, enjoyably- to get past security.

The issue isn't the winning, that bit's easy, it's not getting chucked out before you manage to tot up the winnings.

Only really works for Blackjack.

tedcooke3 karma

Dominic O'Brien is the memory man to look to for this stuff- I believe he cut a swathe of ruin through Las Vegas once, then trained ten others to do the same, seven of whom became professional gamblers. Or something like that.

TheLighterDr2 karma

Is your CatAcademy app going to be available for Android? I used to work at a car dealership. We had over 100 employees, and the general manager knew each employee's name, regardless of how meanial their job. I always thought that was amazing.

tedcooke3 karma

I like the juxtaposition of your two first sentences "Is your CatAcademy app going to be available for Android?" and "I used to work at a car dealership." Disappointed to discover that they're not directly related.

Yes, we'll bring CatAcademy out for Android in the new year- as soon as our CEO @catacademyceo on twitter loses her fear of bots.

Sounds like a good boss, this car dealership dude. It's important, that kind of thing, and actually demonstrates respect (you remember what you're interested in, after all)

GoldenGolden22 karma

Would you ever consider making it possible to add example sentences to memrise entries? Many people (myself included) find it significantly easier to understand and remember vocabulary if there are multiple examples of its use present, and the current mem system isn't really cut out for such a thing. Overall memrise is pretty great for memorizing vocab, but I often find myself manually looking words up in order to see them in use, which slows down my study rate :(

tedcooke3 karma

Yo @goldengolden2 That's an excellent idea, and we're working on it. Would you like them in place of mems?

I'm thinking we should add a different category of mem box, populated with UGC example sentences, each voted upon. What do you think?

GoldenGolden22 karma

I think a second mem category specifically for sentences would be a fantastic addition, and it'd really help boost people's fluency!

Oh, one final suggestion: learning vocabulary only through kana or kanji is kind of a hassle and can end up coming down to a game of guesswork sometimes, since Japanese has many homonyms and very similar words. It's not imperative, but it'd be really cool to be able to make kanji vocab with furigana like this. Just a suggestion, thanks for your time :)

tedcooke3 karma

Ok cool. We'll aim to make that addition fairly promptly- it's been nagging at the back of my mind as something we should do, and I thank you sir/madam for boosting it to the front.

Your suggestion sounds cool. I'm not so knowledgeable on the Oriental stuff, but will pass your suggestion to my main man Ben Whately, who runs that side of the operation!

Thanks again for feedback, great stuff.

ThePelicanWalksAgain2 karma

What is something you can never remember?

tedcooke1 karma

Tunes. I have a dreadful memory for music.

HunchbackNostradamus1 karma

I remember from Joshua Foer's book that the key to building good memories is practice, practice and practice. Do you practice everyday? For how long?

And also... hmm, do you drink a lot of coffee?

tedcooke4 karma

Yeah, but not just practice. Also, enjoying it, having things you want to remember, taking pleasure in using your imagination.

I drink insane amount of coffee. It worries my nearest and dearest.

regularpizza1 karma

I am taking an exam where I will do much better on it if I can memorize about 50 essay questions (300 words each) and 50 essay answers (1,000 words each). What is the best way to do this over the course of two weeks?

tedcooke2 karma

Learning 50k words is going to be an ask. I'd recommend learning some basic bullet points instead, and then think on your feet.

regularpizza1 karma

What do you think would be manageable to memorize in 2 weeks - maybe 10 questions and 10 answers? Would I use memrise to do it? Basically, I can get a better grade if I can memorize a lot of the material, so if there is an efficient way to do it, I am willing to do it.

tedcooke2 karma

I'd make diagrams. 10 in 10 sounds very doable. But don't bother remembering anything verbatim- that's a waste of time. Remember the essence.

trollindowntheriver1 karma

My parents had me tested for ADD when I was like 10, the doctor had me try and remember 3 words; ball, hat, and watermelon. When the doc asked me what the words were around 15 minutes later, I repeated them with no problem so they said I was fine and sent me on my way...I have no idea why I started telling this story.

tedcooke1 karma

lol. sounds like a nice encounter with a doctor of unusual genius.

best not be diagnosed with mental disorders: we're all disorderly in our way, and there are often profound negative effects to narrativizing yourself as being specifically disordered rather than, say, interesting or individual. A lot of psychiatry has been distorted by the influence of big pharma, and there are conditions which didn't exist 20 years ago which have millions of people munching on expensive (and recreationally uninteresting) psychoactive drugs, to their great detriment.

flickering_might1 karma

Hi, Ed, thanks for doing an AMA. I have this silly question - what about forgetting fragments of a list/poem you have memorized and stored safely in one of your loci? Do you revisit your loci often to revise?

tedcooke2 karma

my pleasure- thanks for having me here!

yah, you need to review to remember in the long term. Best place to recite poems is while wandering around town, round a campfire, while going about one's life. Doesn't have to be bent over a desk

theoreticalk1 karma

What has been the hardest and/or most painful lesson to learn while working on Memrise (i.e. a startup)?

tedcooke3 karma

The discovery that things take soooo long to do. Actually getting stuff done is quite remarkably more difficult than imagining them. Shame that!

Estre1 karma

As someone with just over 6,000 items on Memrise... thanks for helping me learn languages! It's obviously not the only thing I've used, but I've gotten a lot of compliments for my vocabulary in foreign languages, and I think it's been thanks to your site.

What do you like to use Memrise for most- any particular subject or language?

tedcooke3 karma

WOAH. 6000 items, that's really impressive. Well done.

Glad to hear that you're experiencing the benefits.

I have a particular love for using it for obscure French vocabulary- I put quite a bit of Proust-discovered vocab into a list, and I love to give that a good drill. It's not just the pleasure of remembering, but the simple fact of being reminded of all of the interesting words and their nuances.

landmule1 karma

Do you like to cook from memory? If so, has this ever created smoke and fire?

tedcooke2 karma

I'm a terrible cook, so there's been plenty of smoke and fire, with or without memory.

I think learning recipes is almost better done practically than through memory techniques, certainly you want some skill first. Afterwards, as a complement, that can be good.

victoryindeath1 karma

How do you increase speed of recall? For example I have memorized the notes on the treble and bass clef, but when looking at them it takes a few seconds to figure out which note is which. Also in a more general way how do you think these memory techniques can help in learning to read and understand music?

tedcooke2 karma

It's all about practising the recall, rather than just the content. Put yourself under systematic time pressure (use a metronome if necessary) and just go for it!.

As a complement to other things, I reckon memory techniques can be very useful for music. But I'd say they want to be integrated fairly systematically with a bunch of more direct ways of engaging with the material.

shoenoverns1 karma

I want to forget something - a painful relationship. How to do it?

tedcooke2 karma

That sounds unfortunate- poor you!

My best recommendation, and apologies that this is so blunt, is to get a new love interest who's less painful, and to over-write those negative memories with positive ones.

Or: try to make the negative memories positive by recategorizing them: ask why they're painful, and practise re-imagining them in less painful form.

shaneb283861 karma

Do you have some sort of organisation for your memory palaces? e.g. 10 loci per room? or 10 loci per street? Do you keep some sort of journal (or memrise course) to keep track of them?

tedcooke4 karma

Lovely question. I don't keep a journal, though I kind of wish I did. It is, paradoxically, possible to forget that you know quite vast things- like 300 line poems, or all the Polish Prime-Ministers.

In terms of memory palace organization, it's normally improvised depending on the space and the material, but if you can do 10 loci per room, that can help: knowing what's there helps scope your attention, and you can therefore organize your memories in a superior fashion.

I always like to keep enough space between loci that I can pass cleanly between them in my imagination.

I'm aware, incidentally, that to someone not familiar with the method of loci, this must seem like a fairly hallucinogenic conversation we're having here @shaneb28386 :)

CorporalEd1 karma

Do you feel like this has some negative implications? Let's say something you'd rather forget ends up sticking with you? Or are you able to somehow control what you remember and what you don't?

tedcooke1 karma

You can basically choose what you wish to remember (by paying attention and reviewing) so no special negative implications.

_logos1 karma

Do you ever plan to come back to Belgium and finish that PhD? Working here now and having read Moonwalking with Einstein I'm pissed I just missed you by a couple of months! Memory palaces are pretty awesome.

tedcooke1 karma

Ha, I love Antwerp so much. What a legendary place. And would love to finish the PhD- we were getting somewhere interesting there, but Memrise and CatAcademy are pretty time intensive.

Are you in the Philosophy Department?

_logos1 karma

Yeah, working with (for) Erik. I don't do philosophy of perception though, I'm doing more extended mind/cognitive processes/anti-representationalism kind of things. Have you read Sutton's papers about memory? Or better yet, do you buy into the engram/exogram distinction? To me, the kind of stuff you do with memory palaces seems like you're building exograms in a place where, simply because of the location (i.e. 'the mind'), they should be referred to as engrams, making the whole distinction kind of fragile.

tedcooke1 karma

I worked with John Sutton, a legendary fellow, at Macquarie Uni in Sydney looking into the philosophy of cricket.

I'm going to have a think about your second question :)

toliveistosuffer1 karma


tedcooke2 karma

So pleased to hear you're enjoying Memrise for Kanji! We love the Oriental content the community's created, so great!

You certainly forget things through lack of use, but "usage" can include using a tool like Memrise, so you can sustain vast amounts of information you're no longer encountering on a day-to-day basis organic basis by using SRS software like Memrise.

And don't worry too much about forgetting: even if the memories do fade, the hard part is learning them in the first place. If you have to re-learn 'em slightly, it'll take vastly less time, and you'll quickly boost up your old networks of memory till they're as good as new.

BicMegaLight1 karma

Love Memrise keep up the good work :)

tedcooke2 karma

Thanks :)

onan_pulled_out1 karma

Hi Ed I have been using memory techniques for a few years and love it. Dominic O'brien, you, harry lorayne, mary carruthers etc have all been authors I owe a great debt to. One thing I have encountered is that things learnt via the method of loci are stranded there, that is they are not "recallable" without the loci. I always read that, eventually the memories will become natural, automatic and the loci will no longer be required. Have you found this problem, and/or how do you overcome it? Transferring things learnt via loci into your natural associative memory.

Using your memorising a talk/lecture example how would you transfer that to your natural associative memory? So you could use the journey for another talk?

Hope the question makes sense hard to type on my phone

tedcooke3 karma

It's a great question, and there are definitely limits to the loci technique, for the reasons you describe.

I'd say that 'pure' associative memory flourishes best from the basis of a memory palace when you read and experience in non-=explicit fashion lots of stuff on the same topic.

That way, the palace can act as a background structure, on top of which all the other associations can grow.

In terms of "transfer", I wouldn't really do that. I'd keep the memory palace devoted to that topic, and begin new ones for new topics.

onan_pulled_out2 karma

Thanks Ed. So if you were learning a new topic, for example a period of history etc, one stage of your learning would be getting the memory palace together?

Have you got any suggestions/resources on building memory palaces. Google maps, any computer games etc, or would you visit somewhere and spend the day getting a palace together?

Also if you were having multiple lectures and not taking notes would you suggest multiple memory palaces? Very resource intensive :)

EDIT: I remember stumbling across this in Richard Feynman's "Surely You are Joking Mr Feynman" "Altered States" that always interested me and is pertinent to this discussion:

"When I went into the tank that week, and had my hallucination, I tried to think of very early memories. I kept saying to myself, “It’s gotta be earlier; it’s gotta be earlier”—I was never satisfied that the memories were early enough. When I got a very early memory—let’s say from my home town of Far Rockaway—then immediately would come a whole sequence of memories, all from the town of Far Rockaway. If I then would think of something from another city—Cedarhurst, or something—then a whole lot of stuff that was associated with Cedarhurst would come. And so I realized that things are stored according to the location where you had the experience. I felt pretty good about this discovery, and came out of the tank, had a shower, got dressed, and so forth, and started driving to Hughes Aircraft to give my weekly lecture. It was therefore about forty-five minutes after I came out of the tank that I suddenly realized for the first time that I hadn’t the slightest idea of how memories are stored in the brain; all I had was a hallucination as to how memories are stored in the brain! What I had “discovered” had nothing to do with the way memories are stored in the brain; it had to do with the way I was playing games with myself. In our numerous discussions about hallucinations on my earlier visits, I had been trying to explain to Lilly and others that the imagination that things are real does not represent true reality. If you see golden globes, or something, several times, and they talk to you during your hallucination and tell you they are another intelligence, it doesn’t mean they’re another intelligence; it just means that you have had this particular hallucination. So here I had this tremendous feeling of discovering how memories are stored, and it’s surprising that it took forty-five minutes before I realized the error that I had been trying to explain to everyone else."

How close he was!!!

tedcooke2 karma

He totally dropped the ball there! He had in his hands- he should have taken the train, that cat-drive ruined his insight.

newgirlie1 karma

I'm 26 and have a terrible memory. I used to have a good memory, but after a couple traumatic drug-related incidents which I wrote about here (might have been Spice or PCP, still not sure), my memory has gone downhill. I sometimes find it difficult to remember someone's name or face shortly after meeting them, which puts me in awkward situations. Other times, I have trouble remembering things I've done earlier in the week, or trouble remember when I did something. I also started to suck at doing arithmetic in my head, and oftentimes I find myself stumbling over words when speaking even though I know in my head exactly what I want to say.

Do you have any recommendations for simple mind exercises I could do daily to help strengthen my memory?

tedcooke4 karma

Wow, what an experience. I've no idea about the specifics of your case, and am obviously a million miles from qualified to say anything you should take seriously, but I'll give you a suggestion all the same.

Give yourself an impossibly difficult memory task, then absolutely kill it. That should fix your doubts, tune up your brain, and put the sense you may have harmed yourself behind you.

Memorise War and Peace or something, that'll show your brain it's still awesome.

dickona1 karma

Being a CEO sounds like a tough job. Would you ever consider hiring a friend to help you out, if they had the right skills?

tedcooke3 karma

yeah. I clearly need help. I've got this mate who works as a lawyer, and he'd be perfect, but he has unrealsitic pay expectations.

Art_of_Creation1 karma

With all these memory technique, can it be possible to be as good as someone who was born with photographic memory? For example, if I ask you on December 5, 2009, what were you doing and what was I wearing, will you be able to tell me?

Are these memory technique beneficial in the STEM field? I know it will probably help with subject like history, but would it help with things like programming, biology?

tedcooke3 karma

a) photographic memory doesn't exist (see above)

b) I never remember what people wear- unless it's nothing or an animal costume. Guess I'm not interested in fashion.

bi) I also don't have the ability to remember things that happened on particular dates- I could, but I don't like the calendar, and so am rarely aware what date it is.

Memory is all about what you pay attention to.

c) Re. STEM, wherever there are facts there is memory. Are there facts in STEM?

scattergraymatter1 karma

Would you recommend using the memory palace for retaining vocabulary(new languages)? If so, have you any advice on how to do it? I've used it for that purpose, but found it harder to do than for other sorts of info.

Loved Moonwalking with Einstein and love memrise btw!

tedcooke2 karma

No, I wouldn't recommend vocab in memory palaces: they're best for structured info. You want to be able to recall vocab out of context.

On Memrise we've built what we think is the optimal way of learning vocab, and omission of memory palaces was deliberate.

Great to hear you're lovin' Memrise. Let us know if there's anything we ca do to improve things.

core131 karma

What did you have for breakfast?

tedcooke2 karma


cavedave1 karma

If mnemonic techniques were taught in schools and memrise was used in language classes what would the effect on education be?

tedcooke3 karma

lol- well, teachers would be able to spend a lot more time teaching meaning and narrative and connection rather than dealing with the fact nobody has got the facts straight.

A lesson in Spanish or History is just inherently going to be much more fun to teach and learn from if everyone goes in with a shared base of knowledge on which to riff.

There are in fact loads of schools (especially in the UK) using Memrise, and we get some fun feedback along these lines.

interrorbang1 karma

Moonwalking with Einstein is a cool book I recommend

tedcooke5 karma

ya, it's a goodie. I'd especially recommend the chapter on applying memory techniques to parties.

I really believe that if people understood the relation between memory and enjoyment (most of pleasure comes from retrospection) we'd learn to organize much more awesome parties, where rather than all the events blurring together in a drunken fuzz in one's mind, they retain a cathedral-like structure, with all the pleasure accessible for years.

gonna write a book on this once I'm done with the startup

fab1an1 karma

Thanks for doing this Ama!

  1. Big fan of memrise! I am on android so can't check out catacademy, which sounds awesome :( are you planning an android version? And how is it different from memrise?

  2. What's the most impressive memory hack I can learn until Xmas to impress my family?

tedcooke2 karma

Hey, my pleasure @fab1an

1) CatAcademy is coming to Android early next year, thanks for your patience there. CatAcademy has lots in common with Memrise (reminders, tests, mnemonic devices), but differs in three key ways

  • It's phrase based: built for conversation (rather than vocabulary) and teaches you grammar implicitly through its phrase-based approach
  • The variety of game modes is built for conversation and listening, and is designed for complete beginners who know no language at all who don't believe they can learn a language, and to get them hooked learning one.
  • It's epically silly, thus a cool way to spend time even if you don't (think you) intend to learn a language

2) Learn to remember a deck of cards. This might help It's an app we built for a competition we ran with Tim Ferriss to see who could learn a deck of cards fastest.

A girl called Irina Zayats, by the way, won the competition- learning to recall a deck of cards in under a minute in just one week, lol.

shoenoverns1 karma

Can you tell me where to find my keys?

tedcooke2 karma

They're probably in your pocket. I'm looking forward to the "internet of things", once it's mature, when we'll be able to google that sort of thing :)

NotThisGirl0 karma

I'm 22 and seriously have no memory. Sometimes I can't remember what I just said to having no recollection of doing something in the recent past. Some friends joke with me that I have undiagnosed ADD. I think it's a little more serious than that. Any tips to help me?? Thank you!

tedcooke2 karma

You must be good at remembering something. Go on- what are you good at remembering? (sports, gossip, a language, places... ?)

NotThisGirl1 karma

Thanks for replying! And wow good question. I never forget a face, and I used to never forget names, but that's a challenge now. Usually good with directions, only needing to be explained once. What is the worst for me is being asked something on the spot. It's like my brain forgets how to find that knowledge within. Also words are pretty bad, I forget simple words and have to describe them i.e. a pencil: that thing you write with! It's just frustrating because I feel like I'm losing my life experiences, they are just gone.

tedcooke3 karma

AHA! So you basically do have an excellent memory, I'm relieved to hear that.

It sounds like you have a whimsical memory, not a bad one, and that you like to take your time when tracking down a memory.

Lol re. the pencil anecdote: that can happen to anyone. The other day, I was trying to remember if that was me I was looking at in the mirror.

If you want to recall more life experience, I'd recommend taking loads of photos and looking over them regularly. or, even better, getting one of these mad things:

NotThisGirl1 karma

Thanks. Good to know I'm not withering away. ;) That camera is brilliant and definitely worth the investment! I'm now going to have fun describing myself as whimsical to my friends, even if it's a bit of a stretch. Have a wonderful day!

tedcooke2 karma

:) and you!