The art of memory: Daniel Kilov at TEDxMacquarieUniversity

The art of memory: Daniel Kilov at TEDxMacquarieUniversity

okay so later this year in London not far from where the Olympic Games have just taken place a group of athletes will be coming together to compete in a very different competition but one which is no less fierce and which also exemplifies the Olympic model of power faster stronger the competition I'm talking about is the world memory championships where world-class memory men and women will be coming together to perform some truly astonishing feats of mental agility to offer up just a couple of examples the world record for memorizing a deck of cards 21.9 seconds now imagine how hard it is to memorize the order of 52 cards let alone he'll do it in less than half a minute just shuffling through a deck that fast very digits you guys hear me yeah that's right the world record for memorizing binary digits is a staggering nine hundred and thirty binary digits that's nine hundred and thirty 1s and zeros memorized in only five minutes now to me it's astonishing to think that there are people walking among us with these kind of superhuman memory abilities but what's even more amazing and to my mind much more exciting is the thought that anyone can learn to do these things that is to say that the competitors at the world memory championships they don't have any kind of special abilities or innate talents rather they all use a very small set of very simple techniques and I know I know that anyone can learn to do these things because as it happens I'm a memory athlete and I didn't have a good memory in school as we said before and if you don't believe me you can just go ask my tips I'm sure they'll attest to this and last year after only a few months of training I competed in the Australian memory Championships and I came second after my coach Tan's Lally which is appropriate I think and I only asked only a few months practice and I also set an Australian record for memorizing the order of apps 19 Hiab strike shapes oh I'm just kidding now when I tell people that I'm a memory athlete the question I tend to get asked is this why why why on earth in an age of smartphones of Google of Wikipedia of ever present internet access why would I bother training my memory and I really like this question I really like this question because I think it goes right to the heart of the conception we have of memory and of the relationship that we think that it has to learning and so what I'd like to do today it's a conception of memory that I think we get from school we've given kind of lists to memorize and we'd sort of do it by kind of repeating it repeating it repeating it and drumming into our heads it's a conception of memory as being a kind of dull impersonal and ineffective parroting and so what I'd like to do today are two things the first thing is to challenge and undermine that conception of memory and offer up instead a vision of memory as something which is creative which is personal which is fun and which is highly effective and the second thing I'd like to do is in light of this new conception of memory I'd like to make a case and the case that I'd like to make is that the art of memory represents a potential revolution in education both in the obvious sense of the word and also because as a matter of historical fact we would be revolving back to these techniques because although the world memory championships is the most recent chapter in the history of the art of memory like the Olympics these techniques find their origins in ancient Greece the ancient Greeks in fact the art of memory was practiced universally by thinkers of the ancient world who recognized that creativity and focus and critical analysis was the kind of thing that could only happen in the minds of a well-trained modest indeed the relationship between memory and creativity is even enshrined in the mythology of the ancient Greeks appropriately named Essene which is where we get our word mnemonic the goddess of memory was also the mother of the muses the Greek goddesses of creativity the memory techniques were then adopted by early Christian monks and safe within the curriculums and cloistered walls of Christian monasteries try saying that five times really fast gave me a bit of a headache practicing this speech it may that these techniques made their way up through the Renaissance where they formed a cornerstone of the education system and were taught alongside grammar rhetoric and logic in fact it was only with the Protestant Reformation which sought to do away with much of the lush visual imagery of the Renaissance including the rich mental imagery of the art of memory that the art of memory was driven underground and replaced with the kind of rote methods of memorization that we know today so a quick glance at the history of memory becomes quite clear that these thinkers have had a conception of memory and a view of memory that is completely alien to those of us familiar only with sort of rote methods of learning and I think the best way to kind of see what what they why they cared about this stuff and why they still value in these techniques is to actually do a bit of memorizing ourselves so today what I'd like to do we're going to memorize the order of the planets and this is a good good case because something we all would have learned in school and we probably would have learnt the traditional way of just kind of repeating and repeating and repeating and sort of held it in our heads right up until we were successfully tested on it where we could kind of put it down along with our pencils so what I'd like you all to do is close your eyes and in full brain bandwidth using all the kind of sensory energy and imagination that you can muster just picture the following story to begin with picture the Sun a giant ball of incandescent plasma it's a flame flying off feel the warmth on your skin and rotating around the Sun is a thermometer and as it goes around because of the heat it starts to rise and as it rises makes that noise that kettles and thermometers making cartoons that group as it reaches the top it explodes and balls of mercury which is of course the first planet in our solar system tumble out across the space scape next to curtain opens in the fabric of space and through steps Venus the goddess of love and all of her beautiful goddess Li naked glory she strides across the space scape and she picks up a ball of mercury and using only the strength of God s can master she hurls it high into the air and the ball of mercury goes up and comes down and with a crash it lands in your backyard which is of course earth the next planet in our solar system at this point your next-door neighbor comes out and he's red-faced and angry and he's wielding a pitchfork and he's ready to go to war and this is of course Mars the next planet in the solar system and the God of War he going to keep the peace along comes Jupiter the giant wearing shiny shoulder pauldrons and carrying a big shield and a big sword and standing in stark contrast to his regal and godlike armor he's wearing this really tacky tourist t-shirt and emblazoned across the cross the chest of his t-shirt three letters s U and n which of course spells son but is also the letters for the next three planets in our solar system Saturn Uranus and Neptune and up on Jupiter's shoulder is sitting Mickey Mouse's best mate a cartoon dog Pluto and of course some of you may be thinking yourself hang on Pluto's not a planet well this is my memory story so suck it up okay so now everyone open your eyes and I want you to see if you can offer up yourselves the order of the planets but I don't just want to see if you can do it forwards I want you to see if you can do it backwards because it's one thing to know something well enough that can go through it in the sequence that was presented to you it's another thing altogether to know it well enough to go backwards now if you can do this and I suspect that most of you can well done you've just learnt in just over a minute a list which had you tried to learn in the old fashioned way of just repeating it to yourself would have elicited groans of resentment from you I'm sure if I just said all right we're just going to repeat this and repeat this and what's more we've taken you substantially longer so using a technique that you've had previously no experience with you've now outperformed yourselves using the rote learning methods that you spent 12 years perfecting at school now how's that for an idea worth spreading what's more the experience is one that's fun it's full of energy and I imagine that each of you would have had very different mental stories if I would ask you for particular details some of you would have maybe emphasized Venus in her nakedness as maybe other aspects and if in fact if you'd come up with your own images for the planets they would have been completely different once again now a little practice with these techniques and it becomes clear that these techniques can really transform our relationship to learning so we my coach was mentioned before tansy lolly he used his techniques to teach himself six months of Chinese in only three weeks now how would your relationship to learning change if all the things that you ever want to learn but never thought you could suddenly became possible you could learn a language in years in weeks instead of years now given the criticisms that we level at our schools today that they kill creativity that based as they are on an industrial model they are insensitive to the differences between our kids the different interests and aptitudes that they do nothing to inspire in our kids a love of learning and very rarely even the capacity to learn I think that it's time for the art of memory to make a return to our classrooms and of course learning is not just about memorizing of course it's not it's about being able to retrieve information to critically assess it to analyze it to synthesize it but none of these things can occur unless you have that information at your fingertips unless you can see how it fits into a bigger picture and that can't be done unless that information is stored in your memory and so given that this is the case I think that these techniques which have for so long been a cornerstone of education should make return to our classrooms thank you


  • Sakth Launda says:

    A very good speech Indeed…

  • Marcelo Ruiz Hernández says:

    Anyone from Superlerner here?

  • Himani Rk says:

    Actually it indeed is a great technique but it is quite time consuming and more over it needs lots n lots of practice…so if u r studying for exam..n going to use this technique..make sure u ve enough time to create it..

    And as for me….it is very hard to just create those images especially the vivid ones

  • do nguyen le ho says:


  • junktube4000 says:

    Lol, who on earth disliked this?

  • Kiki G says:

    This is my favorite Ted talk on memory so far. 🙂

  • Vincent Hall says:

    Pluto is a dwarf planet, just like there are small rocky planets, and gas giants. Doesn't that make it a planet, just of the dwarf class, along with Haumea, Make Make, Eris, Ceres, Charon, 90377 Sedna, 50000 Quaoar, 2012 VP113, 2007 OR10, et al.?

  • Dimitris Michail says:

    Generally, humans' most vivid memories are the ones that were filled with either positive or negative emotions. This is why most of us recall the best or the worst memories of our past but not our daily past routine days. Therefore, if you do want to memorize something, it is good to try and use emotion throughout this process. (My view)

  • Shaun Roberts says:

    Wow… So awkward when he forgets his speech :O I know he said he was kidding, but his facial expression suggests otherwise…

  • Haroon 3d Designing Academy says:


  • Dalton Porter says:

    Тhе shосking ‘triсk’ thаaааt bооsts уууoооur memorу =>

  • Akram Choudhary says:

    ok this sounds great but how applicable is it to learning off text book info

    sampling distribution ; a sampling distribution is a distribution of statistics obtained through a large number of same size samples drawn from a specific population

    could anyone who gets this demonstrate how the above sentence could be learned

  • Roger Quesada says:

    Learning to memorize card is not interesting.

  • The Arcane Arcade says:

    What's the difference between ted x and ted?

  • Zes says:


  • Mike Fuller says:

    I already know the order of the planets from the sun!
    And you go through more main bulk of city and you can see more city by train between Wolverhampton and Birmingham New Street than between Watford Junction and London Euston.   Although a building near by takes up more space in the view than a building of the same size further away.

  • Simon Kim says:

    Insightful and enlightening.  This is indeed an idea worth spreading and memorizing 🙂

  • Josh & Cheol says:

    Yeah, but how does it work with medical terms?

  • Sabina Scoria says:

    What is amazing to me, is that as a young child, a toddler, I somehow picked up on my own that this was how to memorize. I won spelling contest constantly and where I lacked in other classes, I depended on memory to get through school. I swear no one at the time taught me; I was mostly alone, and at school, as Daniel has pointed out, we were taught rote memory. In the last few years, maybe more, I have realized I have the worst memory then that of the average person. I started watching Ted, specifically on memory so that I could learn how to memorize again. The best part was realizing I was a pretty smart kid since I knew to do this naturally. But here's the problem. Maybe it's because I am going through one the worst moments and time in my life. My mother's death from cancer and a divorce that has lasted 5+ years, but when I tried to practice what I have relearned on TED Talk, my brain screamed, "I still can't do it!" and I realized my brain has become LAZY. I also realize, I need the sharpest memory NOW because of the SOCs and SCs, and recently found out he's taking me to trial There is also the fact that my relatives have passed with Alzheimer disease, all on my father's side. I can only hope that my energy will come back and my laziness in my brain will disappear. It would really be nice what I had come up with on my own can come back again.

  • LISTtiwst - Memorize facts fast for exams says:

    Thank you from list-twist the mnemonics site

  • Mind of Tom says:

    My memory CAN BE so bad, it's really frustrating. I'll forget stuff like my phone, my wallet, someone will tell me their name and i'll forget it within like 30 seconds. I'll even ask questions multiple times and KEEP forgetting every time someone tells me.

    For example, I didn't know the password to a mac computer at work, i'll ask.. lets just call him "Guy" what the password is. It's "bigmac21" he says. I go to the toilet, I come back and it's locked. I ask Guy again what the password is and he tells me, I put it in again and login. I go to make a coffee and get locked out, I forget and have to ask again. I go outside for a fag break, come back in and I remember and don't have to ask Guy again, but I go for a lunch break.. I come back and forget and have to ask Guy again, this was all in the same day. I remember this was the worst my memory has ever failed me. Sometimes I remembered it, but then the next time I would forget and have to ask again. This was years ago and I still remember it.

    But with that being said, I remember as a kid my uncle asking me where footballers are from, for example he'll google footballers with very unknown nationalities, and I would answer 50 out of 50 of the questions correctly, I could've also told you what clubs they've played for, and really stupid stuff like what year they had a certain haircut.

    I can remember every single gun, map, perk, attachment and game mode on Call of Duty.

    I could tell you every single wrestling championship that Stone Cold, Kane, Undertaker, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Triple H, John Cena and The Rock have held.

    If I show an interest in something then I can remember every single minor detail, but if I don't want to be somewhere, or don't find something interesting in the slightest I will forget every single thing i've been told about a subject.

    I remember I knew someone called Chloe at work, she used to be useless at remembering little things too, she would forget to lock the door behind her. She would forget to go to a meeting at a certain time, she would lose track of time and get into work and come back from lunch late every day. But she could tell you every single lyric to every Panic! At The Disco song.

    Some remember every single thing that they're told at work, but then they'll have no recollection of you or them saying something a week ago at home.

    Some people will have incredible memories, they remember every single thing you say, they'll never be late or forget their wallet. But they cannot for the life of them think of anything to say in a conversation.

    Moral of this comment : People's minds work in different ways 🙂

  • Eman Resu says:

    bs, these ppl are bred, not anyone can do these things.

  • B Mac says:

    This is something they definitely should have been teaching in school for a long time. Why don't they? This could change the world.

  • manictiger says:

    Explains why Hearts of Iron III taught me more about history and geography than 12 years of school.
    I had to remember the countries and events to understand and write into the story.

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