Friday, March 11, 2011

A Manifesto for Using Eroticism to Improve the Memory

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “Sexy Ruses to Stop Forgetting to Remember” was interesting. It was about a book written by a young man, Joshua Foer, called “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.” He comes from a family of writers. I remember (without arousal) his brother Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Everything Is Illuminated” very well. It was the story of a young man who journeyed to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Nazi liquidation of his shtetl. It was made into a movie and it seems like Joshua’s will also.

Jonathan Safran Foer is a wonderful writer and if Joshua has his genes (why not?) the book must be good.It sounds fascinating and rightly so: it seems to provide a guidebook during our short-attention-span era of Twitter, constant Blackberry missives and the deluge of information that keep us from remembering. To quote her:

Our hunger-gatherer brains are swamped in a Twitter-blogger world.

Young Mr. Foer had a mentor:

Memory grand master Ed Cooke, a young Brit who claims to have an average recall, teaches Foer some strategies. If you have a lot to remember, you put the items through a path throughout a familiar place, like your childhood home. Imagine a person performing an act on an object. And try to throw in something lewd and bizarre. If you need to remember to get cottage cheese, picture a tub of cottage cheese at the front door and visualize Claudia Schiffer swimming in it.”

Ms. Schiffer is a gorgeous model and ripe for any erotic imagination. Even David Copperfield probably used her as memory tricks in his magic acts. But then the memory concept seems to move away from eroticism to simply bizarre. Think Woody Allen’s movie, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex,” and the scene with Gene Wilder and his love object.

”The technique [Mr. Foer] writes, “invariably meant inserting family members into scenes so raunchy that I feared I was upgrading my memory at the expense of tormenting my subconscious. The indecent acts my own grandmother had to commit in the service of my remembering the eight of hearts are truly unspeakable…”

I’m no psychology expert, but maybe imagining your own grandmother in erotic acts requires more time on the psychoanalyst’s couch, not the casting couch.

But hey, any porthole in a storm. Whatever helps the young people remember better despite the multitude of distractions is a godsend.

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