Every semester, I have a couple students who say, “Oh, I’m terrible at memorizing things.” The next time it happens, I’m going to require the whole class to read this article.
You will never think about memorization in the same way again, and it just might help you learn those student names a little faster.
I asked Ed Cooke, a competitor from England — he was 24 at the time and was attending the U.S. event to train for that summer’s World Memory Championships — when he first realized he was a savant.
“Oh, I’m not a savant,” he said, chuckling.
“Photographic memory?” I asked.
He chuckled again. “Photographic memory is a detestable myth. Doesn’t exist. In fact, my memory is quite average. All of us here have average memories.”
That seemed hard to square with the fact that he knew huge chunks of “Paradise Lost” by heart. Earlier I watched him recite a list of 252 random digits as effortlessly as if it were his telephone number.
“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.