Here’s a blog post on memory training, scientific thinking & communication, especially in my quest to find out what and how things really work: What it takes for us to live happy, fulfilled and successful lives, with a current focus on—but not limited to—Buddhist philosophy and the 2 additional that questions came along,
- Can we extract, adapt and contextualise the ideas and concepts from Buddhist philosophy to live a happy, fulfilled and successful life?
- Can we really make a 2500-year-old tradition relevant to the 21st century, not as a “religion” but as a secular philosophy with broad applications that we can use in our lives?
Given how tricky it would be in the attempt to distinguish Buddhist philosophy from Buddhism, the religion, I began to ponder if there’s an approach that would help me navigate my biases and the grey zones—I mean where do we draw the lines between religion and philosophy, faith and facts, and the list can go on—so that I can remember what I read and communicate my findings objectively.
As a person who leans toward intention rather than coincidence, I found a potential approach from a combination of the following
- Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art & Science of Remembering
- MasterClass: Neil deGrasse Tyson Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication
Now let’s see how this former theatre student who graduated 12 years ago from the faculty of Arts and Social Sciences from the department of English Language and Literature grapples with ancient history of mnemonic devices and scientific jargons.
On Memory Training & My Quest
As of this writing, I’m at page 232 of 431. I first learned about Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art & Science of Remembering most likely while scrolling through the Instagram discover feed and chanced upon Bill Gates’ summer book recommendations—I can’t remember exactly.
Of the five books I finished over vacation, the one that impressed me the most – and that is probably of broadest interest – is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by science writer Joshua Foer. This is an absolutely phenomenal book that looks at memory and techniques for dramatically improving memory. Foer actually mastered these techniques, which led him to the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship. His book gives fascinating insights into how the mind works. (I have more to say in my separate review of Moonwalking with Einstein.)Books I read this Summer, Bill Gates
Now that I’m retracing the steps of why I ended up reading the book, I have vague recollections of why I was looking up on memory & Bill Gates.
First of all, after watching Netflix’s limited documentary series Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates I became so inspired by Bill Gates that I look up to him as a role model.
He demonstrated how a successful and meaningful career and life could look like, the result of years and years of hard work leads not to decadence and excess but to a beautiful partnership with his wife, Melinda Gates, both working hand in hand to create and run the Gates Foundation, helping to solve bigger problems in the world.
It could only happen because they were positioned in a way they could help, when most were either struggling to keep their lives afloat or too occupied with themselves.
But what really struck me was one thing seemingly in common that I had with Bill Gates and how I had always strived to achieve what he already had.
“He is joyous about learning things, like no one I’ve ever met in my life. He doesn’t read one book about something, he’ll read, like, five books about something.”Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates
While I am nowhere near the intensity of learning things like Bill Gates, what resonated is reading as much as I can on one thing. Obviously what drew me in further is what eventually got me to reading Moonwalking with Einstein. From 3 different people in the documentary series, one includes Melinda Gates, his wife,
- “And he reads really fast and synthesizes really well.”
- “When I’ve been with him on vacation, he’ll read 14 books. That’s a gift, you know, to read 150 pages an hour. I’m gonna say it’s 90 percent retention.”
- “One thing about Bill is he is a multi-processor. He’ll be reading something else but then processing at the same time.”
I want to be like Bill Gates.
I don’t just want to read fast, but I want to retain 90% of what I read like him. I want to be able to synthesize and process what I’m reading at the same time.
I read fast but I don’t remember much of what I read after I complete the book, unless I take notes along the way. But then I would have to read my notes and create a mind map after processing what I’ve read. With my quest, a tricky quest, I couldn’t just rely on my unreliable memory and my slow processing speed.
I needed a solution.
Sure, in the discipline of the Buddhist philosophy, it’s said that if the effect you want is to remember well, then the cause you need to create is to help others remember well. That’s the basics of cause and effect in Buddhist philosophy.
But in order to help others remember well, I needed a conventional method, which led me to a search on Bill Gates’ blog on any books he might have read on the topic of memory… I found one.
The mini-quest, like in games, of having a better memory to support the main quest began.
On Scientific Thinking & Communication & My Quest
While having a better memory might help improve accuracy and credibility, it doesn’t necessarily help with objectivity, the lens which I should wear when reading a text, the angle, the way I should approach a text.
Given that I have a quest, it’s completely different from reading a book for leisure.
Again, what kept bothering me was the delicate treatment of Buddhism as a religion and extracting, adapting and contextualizing the ideas—Buddhist philosophy—to live a happy, fulfilled & successful life.
If I wasn’t careful, I might end up bashing religion, which I have no interest to do so, it’s not objective. Or I fall right into faith and proselytising, which defeats my quest.
Science has been on my mind when I started researching for my other blog post on Buddhism without religion. And I bumped into books with the following titles:
- Where Buddhism Meets Neuroscience: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Spiritual and Scientific Views of Our Minds
- Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
- Zen-Brain Horizons: Towards a Living Zen
Life goes on as I continued to search, at times intentionally and at times not, such as when I was midway through browsing my account in the MasterClass app, I saw the category Science & Technology.
With 13 video lessons, I am at my 6th lesson and my mind is struggling to retain (see why memory training is so important?) and process what I’ve learnt.
Now let’s do a stock take.
A Working Mnemonic Strategy & Scientific Approach to Buddhist Philosophy
At the 54% mark of the book, all I did with memory training was a visualisation exercise the author suggested that I follow as he described how his attempt.
It was amazing to me is while I can’t remember much from the book now unless I refer to my notes, I still remember the random and ridiculous grocery list the author memorised.
The technique, if I didn’t get it wrong, is an ancient one, belonging to Simonides from Greece.
What one does is you first bring to mind a place where you’re familiar with, an architecture like a home, where you can mentally deposit a series of engaging and possibly ridiculous images. Because of the order you arranged the images, these items that you’d usually forget, becomes engraved into your memory.
So the first 2 lessons I’ve gotten so far, while sinking deep into history and science of remembering, or not, is to collect architecture to build “memory palaces” and to get in shape.
As for the scientific approach, as of the 6 out of 13 videos lessons, here’s the following points that stuck with me:
- Science is a quest for what is objectively true
- As the area of our knowledge grows, so too does the perimeter of our ignorance.
- Science is, you have such a deep understanding of what’s going on, you can make a prediction of something that has never happened before.
- The difference between a theory (tested) and a hypothesis (untested)
- Don’t be intellectually lazy: Accept without question, reject without probing if it could be true
- Science literacy = critical thinking
- Be a proper skeptic, question what you’re unsure of to get to the truth
- If you have reason to think that is said might not be true, inquire further
- It’s not an outright rejection of what you don’t want to be true or what you don’t think is true
- Understanding what is true does not or should not flow from authority
- Seek evidence: whatever is it you think is true, what to be true, find another way to demonstrate that, other than by your testimony
- Objectively true: Experiments get repeated and you start getting a similar result
- Watch out for cognitive and cultural biases
- Assumptions are for one to test your ideas
- Complete reading Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art & Science of Remembering
- Complete watching the MasterClass: Neil deGrasse Tyson Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication
- Write progress report sequel to this blog post to update on my approach