Full text of memory expert Chester Lian’s talk: Memory- Unlocked at TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet conference.
Chester Lian- Speedcuber
Watching someone solve a Rubik’s cube is like going through the five stages of grief.
See, at first you’re like- “No way! What… did you see that?” Stage One: denial.
And then you think about yourself trying to solve this, getting stuck, getting frustrated. Now you’re at Stage Two: anger.
And then you think to yourself, wait, maybe that guy on stage is going to teach me how to do this today. Stage three: bargaining.
And then immediately you realize that that’s not possible because I only have 12 minutes on stage today, so you’re disappointed and you go into stage four: depression.
Finally you get to stage five: acceptance: “Oh, well, I guess I’m not going to learn this today. It’s not even that cool anyway, it’s just a stupid party trick.”
And you’re right. I’ve been doing this for almost nine years now and I can safely say that this is my second most useless hobby. My most useless hobby is solving Rubik’s cubes blindfolded.
I used to think that if I just got really good at this and like make it to the world championships, I get all this media attention and fame and fortune. And now that I’ve actually set two world records doing this, you probably don’t even know they have a world championships for this.
The first step to solving a cube blindfolded is to memorize it. The secret though is not to memorize the colors, but to memorize your solution. Your entire solution encoded into a sequence of letters and numbers that only you can decipher.
So for example, on this cube, my solution sequence goes something like this: C, W, P, H, B, O, E, M, S, L, 1, 7, 8, 2, 6, 2, 3, 4, 3. that’s it. That’s all I need to solve this cube blindfolded.
By the way, that’s a great password in case you need one.
So how do you go about memorizing that in just 20 seconds?
Well, first of all, my memory sucks in real life. I can’t… I’m bad at names, I’m bad at directions. I don’t even know what I had for dinner last night.
But I came across this memory technique. It’s called the method of Loci, also called the memory palace or the mind palace. And what it is… what it does is, it’s based on this really simple idea that there are just so many things that we know and remember without even trying.
What I mean by that?
For example, the layout of your house, your family members, your daily routine, these are all the things that you don’t have to think about. You just know them. You don’t have to remember where your kitchen is. You don’t have to remember what your office looks like. You don’t have to remember how many siblings you have.
You just know these things and this is what we’re going to exploit to help us remember things that we otherwise can’t.
And now if you can memorize that completely random bunch of letters and numbers and whatever, then you can memorize anything, just about anything.
With a little bit of creativity, I’ve used the same exact method to memorize things like my schedule, my grocery list, my flight information, cards…cards at the blackjack table. That’s a good skill to have. And of course this talk itself.
So what started out as my completely useless hobby has turned out to be pretty useful. And the best part is all of you can learn this. Anyone can learn this. You, you, you, all of you here can learn this.