Ron Hale-Evans, author of Mind Performance Hacks
Part of the show Naked Science Question and Answer
Chris - Now what's your memory like? People often ask me how I manage to remember so many things, and the answer is that I just have to read them and they sort of stick somewhere. But now to tell us how to all have an incredibly good memory and maybe also how to have a photographic memory, here's Ron Hale-Evans from the US, who has written the book Mind Performance Hacks. Hello Ron.
Ron - Hi Dr Chris. Thanks for having me on the show.
Chris - Great to have you with us. Come on then, tell us about your book. What's it all about?
Ron - Well it's about improving not just your memory but improving your creativity and general mental fitness by using clever tricks, or what we call hacks.
Chris - This is not just a glorified self help book. These things actually do work don't they.
Ron - Yes, I think so. Some of them are thousands of years old and are time-tested, and others are very new and use the newest cognitive research.
Chris - And have you yourself got a photographic memory?
Ron - No, I don't have photographic memory. In fact I have rather a poor memory at times but I use some of these hacks to improve my memory and I'm able to do things I wouldn't normally be able to do such as go to the grocery and not have to use a grocery list.
Chris - Ok, are these things you've worked out for yourself, so that they're only going to work on you or if people read your book and apply these things, are you reasonably confident that they're going to work for everybody?
Ron - Well there are 75 different hacks in the book and not every hack in the book will work for every person. But I think there's something in the book for everyone and I think everyone will find something that they can use.
Chris - Ok, so do you want to run us through a couple of them? I know you have a couple in mind that you were going to tell us about.
Ron - Sure, well I was talking about a grocery list a minute ago. As you were mentioning earlier in the show, the human brain is incredibly visual. Our distant ancestors didn't use abstract numbers or other abstract information, but they could certainly visualise concrete shapes of things like predators or food. So you can use that ability to process sensory information by turning a numbered list like a shopping list into concrete shapes that you can remember.
Chris - So you visualise the thing you want to remember, link it to something else in your mind and it makes it easier to remember.
Ron - That's right.
Chris - So come on then. Give us an example of how you would do that for a few objects.
Ron - So let's say that you have three items you're trying to remember. You associate the number 1 with a pencil because it's shaped like a pencil, and the number 2 with a swan because it's shaped like a swan, and the number 3 with a heart because it's shaped like the top of a heart. Let's now say you want to remember the items bread, milk and soup. You might imagine, instead of a pencil, a loaf of French bread to write a letter to someone. You might imagine a milk white swan swimming in a lake of milk.
Chris - But you've still got to remember all these things Ron.
Ron - Well that's true but you're relying on information that's already in your brain like shapes to remember things that you're trying to remember on the fly like a grocery list.
Chris - The one thing that I really liked was your method for learning Morse code because as someone who used to be very interested in radio myself, I found Morse code impenetrable for some reason. So what's your answer there?
Ron - We took a hack that was described by the children of Frank Gilbert, who was an efficiency expert at the turn of the 20th century. He came up with a way of remembering Morse code letters by using English words. For example, the Morse code letter A, which is dot - dash, is remembered by the word a-bout.
Kat - So you're using the letters as a word pattern or rhythmic pattern.
Ron - yes. We're using the stress of the words.
Kat - So can you remember the whole of the Morse code?
Ron - Yeah, pretty much. Occasionally I have to go back to refresh my memory because I don't have that much occasion to use Morse code in ordinary live.
Chris - What's dot dot, dash dash, dot dot, Ron?
Ron - Erm
Chris - You can't get that one wrong! It's SOS!
Kat - People have different ways of remembering things because I can remember facts but I can't remember people. Have you got a quick tip for me to remember people?
Ron - Well there isn't one in the book but I can tell you that the way to do it is to remember the person with an image.
Kat - So I have to associate them with something.
Chris - What would you associate with Kat? I would associate her with a pair of smelly socks, but that's just me. Ron, thanks for coming on the programme and joining us to talk about your book.