“Memorizing a Deck of Cards in a Minute”or “Why You Have an Amazing Untapped Memory”

I like hobbies. Hobbies are fun. Especially when they’re challenging.

during the summer of 2013, a young boy sat on the floor of his living room, staring into the empty void that is the internet. With three empty months in his hands, unburdened by school, limited by nothing but his imagination, liberated by the warm blessing of the summer, you’d find it disturbingly ironic that he’s occupied and entertained for hours on end by looking at image macros and reading about the late Steve Jobs. But little did he know that adventure was knocking at his doorstep.

Okay, okay, enough with the fiction novel. Last summer, while I was looking for hobbies and fun things to learn, I stumbled upon this video of a world-famous memory superstar named Dominic O’Brien. Despite his old age, he was able to memorize a deck of cards in a minute using a technique called memory palaces (or Method of Loci). This technique could also be used to memorize grocery lists, names of people, or anything about anything. I had always wanted to become exceptionally good at something that most others weren’t. Fascinated by the challenge, I decided to take it up myself.

If you’re not familiar with how memory palaces, work, here’s how it works. We’ll use the deck of cards as an example. For each item you want to memorize, choose a visual image. That means, for each card in a standard deck, you choose a familiar, memorable, easy-to-imagine, visual image to associate with that card. Choose things that you can make into a story. It’s better to choose people or characters for these images since you can give them “life” by crafting them into a story. For example, if you are a Beatles fan:

Ace of Diamonds – John
Ace of Hearts – Paul
Ace of Spades – George
Ace of Clubs – Ringo

Be creative and make each card distinct from one another. (For some people, the Beatles might not be the best choice unless they can distinguish each member clearly). After each card has an assigned “character,” you’re ready for the next step. Also, it may help for you to associate a distinct and unique “object” for each “character.” (For example John – Peace symbol/Guitar, Paul – Bass, George – Guitar/Sitaar, Ringo – Drums.)

To actually memorize the deck of cards, go through each card of the deck one by one and, as you see the card, visualize the “object” in your mind. Choose a familiar setting (for example, your daily commute, walking through your house, etc.) As you “walk” through that setting, visualize each “object” from the cards of the deck. Make a story and see each image. I suggest you start with a few cards at first, then gradually increase the number until you can walk through an entire deck of cards. Make a “chain” of ideas that can let you move from one object to the next. Don’t stop, and don’t hesitate. Also, don’t go too fast or the story won’t “stick” with you. Trust yourself that you’ll be able to remember the story. Try not to cycle or “revisit” the same place in your story twice, or that may confuse you in the end. Also, don’t make it too “logical.” Make it bizarre or fun. That way, it’s much more memorable and easy.

I’ve bolded the characters and objects in this small example:

As I shut the door to my dorm room, I see John Lennon in front of me, strumming his guitar. He is confronted by Giorgio Armani, wearing the finest of suits. I turn left and see Sam Eagle sitting on the floor and waving an America flag while listening to a lecture by Albert Einstein, writing on the chalkboard on the opposite side of the hall. I walk down the hall towards the exit door and see Che Guevera standing outside, sporting his signature bandana, and having a conversation with Ellen Degeneres who sits on her couch

After your story is over, you will find that you can easily remember the story from the beginning to the end. You’ll be able to recall each image and the associated card that goes with it.

Anyways, when I began my memory journey, I made my mnemonic dictionary. I began with only 5-10 cards at once and increased the number until I was able to memorize a whole deck of cards. From there, I began to impress my friends at parties and even use it to memorize a few concepts in my classes. In about 4-6 weeks, however, I could memorize a shuffled deck of cards in a minute.

Human memory isn’t as important as it once was. Before the invention of paper and spread of modern technology, our ancestors had to rely on their own memories for preserving history, geography, science, and other information. For this reason, people must have had to had amazing memories. Sure, ancient civilizations such at the Egyptians and Mesopotamians had systems of writing such as hieroglyphics and cuneiform, respectively, but human beings will always create more information and require more efficient means of being able to store and retrieve that information. Scholars must have had to commit a large amount of information to memory.

Nowadays, that information can be stored in computers, books, and just about anything you can think of. But, the people who are alive today, the descendants of the ones of those ancient civilizations, still retain much of this amazing memory. All people have this amazing memory ability, but, because we don’t need to use it anymore, we’ve grown to distrust ourselves in remembering things. Nowadays, we forget peoples’ names after a few minutes of meeting them. We forget where we place our keys. We forget what we learn in class a few hours ago. Obviously I’m not advocating that we should abandon daily reminders or throw out all forms of writing, but we should take advantage of our own potential and never underestimate ourselves.

Personally, however, I grew a lot more confident in my ability to learn and retain information. I hope to develop more as a scholar and a human on this amazing adventure through memory.

Memrise is a helpful website that can teach you this method, too.

Learn more about how I used memory techniques in my Organic Chemistry class freshman year.

Beginning my summer research internship – on bioinformatics and math and everything

What do you get when you combine running and nature, two of my favorite interests?

Pictured: nature

Cornell University, aka, the place where everyone runs and worships trees. Last Saturday I moved into a residence hall with ~20 other students as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) with the Boyce Thompson Institute, where I’ll be using computers, science, and computer science to study the DNA of tomatoes. When I was applying for summer internships, I thought this one sounded interesting, but I never realized how much I really loved Cornell and its atmosphere until I got here. Everything about being at a small, private school seems different than at the state college I attend. Even though its summer (which means the campus is mostly empty of students and there isn’t much going on), I still feel like I’m a student who truly belongs here. It makes me excited to do research, and I’m definitely going to miss it when I return at the beginning of August. 

The journey I’ve taken in my research career has been serendipitously zig-zaggy and spanned several fields, despite the fact that I’ve only finished my freshman year of college. When I was in high school, I participated in a summer science camp at a small college where I would start my research career. Unfortunately, though I was obsessed with math and physics, the college was only strong with biology research. But my professor introduced me to biostatistics, or, how the field in which people have finally realized that biology and math can coexist together without the world exploding. When I realized how essential mathematics was to biology, I joined the bandwagon of cocky physicists trying to explain all biological phenomena through numbers, and ended up in a bioinformatics lab at my university. There, I began to grind my nose to the concrete in research until I had the experience needed to get into this internship. Along the way, I’ve also joined a computational physics lab at my university, but I have yet to do much research on it. Hopefully, this summer or next fall, I can begin to get some work done in my physics lab as well. 

On my plane trip here, I met a sweet girl from Switzerland. We had lunch together and she gave me some Swiss chocolate!
Pictured: happiness. 
When people ask me what bioinformatics is, I usually respond that it’s “using computers to study biology.” But that’s a very superficial way to define a field of study. I might as well have just said “It’s about pushing buttons on a machine so that lights turn on and off.” It probably makes more sense to look at an area of study by examining the way it goes about solving problems and analyzing nature, rather than the methods and techniques used by the scientists.
The whole concept of having a field called “bioinformatics” always intrigued me. When we use computer science or statistics in biology, as we call it “bioinformatics” or “biostatistics” but when use computer science or statistics in physics, we don’t say “physioinformatics” or “physiostatistics”; we just say “physics.” I think this is the result of our ignorance of the connections between mathematics and biology. We’ve been taught that biology is a “soft science” that doesn’t require math the same way chemistry and physics do, despite the fact that there have been plenty of famous biologists (Eric Lander, Crick, Mendel, to name a few) who had extensive backgrounds in mathematics. 
I guess when Galileo said “The Book of Nature is written in the language of mathematics,” he knew something about how we were going to describe our universe. 
There was a speaker today who explained that “bioinformatics is how biology has entered the field of computer science.” The cocky scientist inside of me scoffed as I thought “No way! Bioinformatics is how computer science entered biology, not the other way around.”
Until next time, this physicist-biologist-computerman will keep pushing buttons on this laptop.

New kid on the blog

This is a blog I made. I’ll try to put stuff in it as I surf the internet so I don’t feel like I’m being unproductive as I read articles on the internet. I’ll also write about stuff that happens to me.

I’m into running, programming, Nintendo, meditating, card tricks, and coffee. But I’ll try to keep this blog impersonal and not like some twitter feed or something.

Summer is here. As much as I want to sit in front of my laptop and browse Reddit for hours a day, I do need to get some productivity done. I’m going to try something  called RescueTime and begin logging my hours of my schedule for the day in an Excel sheet as I work or do anything during the day. What are the important things I need to do? Programming, writing, studying, exercising, socializing, and everything else.  what time do I have for wasting time on YouTube and Reddit or playing video games whether they’re on my laptop or elsewhere?

But I spent forever and a half trying to decide on a blog name, so I think that’s enough blogging for today. Next time, expect longer posts, content, analysis, criticism, and everything in-between.