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Published on January 25th, 2012 | by Thompson


Moonwalking with Einstein a Brainy, Gonzo Quest Never to Forget

“It takes a lot of remembering just to be able to remember.” -Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein

When I first picked up Moonwalking with Eintstein I hardly thought it would be pertinent to my focus of Gonzo journalism, but Joshua Foer impresses with his quest to climb the ranks of “mental athletes” to eventual US Champion.  The first person narrative and somewhat heroic, yet profoundly nerdy, feats of Foer make for a strikingly Gonzo style of nonfiction – and that’s not even considering the intermittent debauchery.  Foer impresses not only with his feats of memorization, but with his candid story uncovering the small world of professional memory competition.  Foer, more than he may realize, took a page from Hunter Thompson’s book and simply asked, “What better way to learn about motorcycle gangs than by riding with the Hell’s Angels?,”  and, in turn, took us all on a motorcycle ride through the subconscious.

Socrates may have thought it would be “singularly simple-minded to believe that written words can do anything more than remind one of what one already knows,” but I have to strongly object, considering the irony that had not Plato wrote Socrates’ words we would not have the luxury to question his theory.  Foer proves my point in through his writing he discovers something incredible about himself that he never knew, and frankly, what many of us never knew.  Bruce Lee was right, “there are no limits.  There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.  If it kills you, it kills you.”  As long as we practice we can be an expert in just about anything we want, which is exciting to me.  But as Foer notes, “when you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend…to improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”  I think that’s what I like about writing.  It’s ridden with failure after failure, but one small success and you have a potential legacy.  Much like baseball, if you fail 7 out of 10 times you’re a superstar.

“With our blogs and tweets, digital cameras, and unlimited-gigabyte email archives, participation in the online culture now means creating a trail of always present, ever-searchable, unforgetting external memories that only grows as one ages.”  It is human nature to feel the need to leave a legacy.  There were cave drawings, then books, then tweets, but I think it’s gotten to the point that we store nothing internally anymore.  It’s sad how much I’ve forgotten just during my years in college, but as Foer discovered, though there is very little need in the practical world for memorization tricks “memory training is not just for the sake of performing party tricks; it’s about nurturing something profoundly and essentially human.”  And that’s the important thing.  Our societal memory has become so externalized it’s important to remind ourselves we’re human. “We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories.”

“Nobody would want to have their attention captured by every triviality, but there is something to be said for the value of not merely passing through the world, but also making some effort to capture it – if only because in trying to capture it, one gets in the habit of noticing, and appreciating.”  Foer may have found his new skill practically useless, but it’s not the skill that’s important.  It’s the journey and your ability to capture it in memory.

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About the Author

When Thompson isn't busy writing for Go Gonzo Journal, you may find him drunk at the movie theater with Professor Heinous or stirring up trouble in a bar with his attorney. Thompson also enjoys skiing, hiking, camping, and watching and betting on baseball and football.

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