Proposal for a different kind of Memory Championships

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#1 21 September, 2017 - 18:53
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Proposal for a different kind of Memory Championships


One of the best ways that memory athletes around the world can really legitimize mnemonic systems and techniques is to start competing publicly to rapidly learn useful knowledge. Memory Sports should be about more than memorizing decks of playing cards, random words, numbers, binary digits, abstract images, names and faces. I propose a new kind of Memory Championship competition - one that uses ten branches of knowledge to demonstrate the extraordinary power of these techniques. Each competitor would memorize things like geography, history, science, astronomy, math equations, anatomical parts, mixed foreign and English vocabulary words, etc.

Some of you might say something to counter my argument, such as "but anyone can memorize those ideas before a competition and cheat". The fact of the matter is, none of the competitors will know beforehand what order these ideas will be presented in, or what ideas in those branches of knowledge will be tested. You may know a thousand facts about geography, but if you do not know what order they will be presented in, then you are at no better advantage than anyone else who practiced memorizing geography before the competition. This sounds like a much more difficult competition, but it can be kept simple at first, and depending on how much enthusiasm and skill it generates, can be greatly expanded from there. If you really want to help give The Art of Memory a good name, then compete on memorizing useful knowledge, rather than just memorizing numbers, random words, and other such trivial pursuits.

I am not saying that it is not worthwhile and beneficial to compete in the typical memory championship competitions - what I am saying is that these competitions need to evolve, to move past memorizing non-useful data to memorizing useful data.

Any thoughts and comments about this are welcome and encouraged.

Here are some. Each year it could change, if need be, but it could be ten events, perhaps. These are just suggested ideas. Maybe someone has a better suggestion?
1) U.S. History
2) European History
3) Latin American History
4) Chemistry
5) Anatomy
6) Physics formulas, equations, etc.
7) Mathematical formulas, equations, etc.
8) Plant families
9) Animal families like birds, etc.
10) World Geography, city populations, capitals, etc.

22 September, 2017 - 06:12
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Knowledge based competitions would never be completely fair because people will have more knowledge than other people in different subjects. While in current competitions, there is no way to ever know the order the information will come in or be. But I do agree that having memory competitions dealing with useful information will show people the power of memory techniques.

22 September, 2017 - 10:02
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I'm not sure how you could make it fair. Could you maybe give us a few sample tests to illustrate, along with the conditions for the competition?

22 September, 2017 - 11:57
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Parkouristx, thanks for your interest. The same thing, however, could be said of the existing memory competitions. People who practice memorizing hundreds of numbers, playing cards, and so on, have way more "knowledge" of those who practice less. If someone comes into the competition with years of prior knowledge about something like, say, geography, then it will probably not help them any more because they might be presented with 200 geography questions in a random order that they will then have to memorize and repeat back in the same order. Besides that, these competitors will know far in advance what the subjects they will be tested on will be - by posting it on a website. This kind of competition will spark a much stronger interest by professional organizations interested in funding prizes or scholarships than the existing competitions who seem to be preoccupied with binary-digits and playing cards. Lets be honest, most of the general public and professional organizations see the current memory competitions as silly and nerdy. The way to give mnemonics a more respectable place in learning is to compete publicly in the media on learning vast amounts of useful knowledge.

Your further thoughts on this matter are welcome.

22 September, 2017 - 11:40
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tracym, thank you for your interest on this matter. The same thing could be said of the current memory competitions, because someone who trains everyday on memorizing random numbers, names and faces, playing cards, etc., is making the competitions not "fair" for those who do not practice beforehand. The thing that makes it "fair" is that no one will know beforehand what order the knowledge will be presented in. For example, the competitors know that in a few months time one of the competitions will be on who can remember the most facts from, lets say, astronomy, in a particular order. Now even if you have a P.h. D. in astronomy, it will not help you cheat because although you may have lots of knowledge about astronomy, you will not know what order 200 facts about astronomy will be presented in. The P.h. D. professor in astronomy will have already "practiced" his knowledge of that subject years in advance, just like someone who memorizes playing cards "practices" that knowledge far in advance for current competitions, but the one memorizing playing cards is not "cheating" because he does not know what order these cards will be presented in at current competitions.

Your further thoughts and suggestions on this topic are encouraged.

22 September, 2017 - 12:46
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Mnemon,

I couldn't agree more. I must confess that I have limited experience in memorizing card sequences, but I do have experience in memorizing information used in everyday life situations. The point of mnemonics is to make it easier to memorize information. I want to memorize things such as recipes, survival skills, economic formulas, math equations, investment strategies, chemistry information, verses of scripture, famous quotes, etc. all of which I have. If they had a competition based on the competitors ability to memorize these types of things in specified period of time, I'd be the first to sign up.

22 September, 2017 - 13:05
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Excellent! Yes, I plan on organizing the first event of this nature in Portland, Oregon, within the next few months. It will first start out very small and informal, and then evolve into a more formal competition. I'll post more about it's development on here over the next few months.

22 September, 2017 - 15:28
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You should Mnemon, it will give more exposure to using mnemonics in everyday life. It might be the first anyone has ever hosted too!

22 September, 2017 - 16:12
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Hey, if you can host a memory competition in the US, I'll be there! I love a good challenge. Plus, I've always wanted to visit Oregon.

22 September, 2017 - 16:59
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Sure thing tracym! I'll be working on it over the next few months and will keep you updated on developments.

23 September, 2017 - 06:38
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Good idea, Mnemon.

But I have 3 main issues regarding such a specilized memory championship.

1. If the tasks are given in English, then this places too much emphasis on the Anglo-sphere world, therefore it vastly ignores those cannot speak many English worlds, but they already have a genius memory. I've met such folks from Asia (Japan, Korean and Mongolia). And because numbers, cards, images, (or similar symbols) always transcend cultural norms, they are far more universal than letters, words and phrases in a random language.

2. Nevertheless, if you are willing to establish such an event and make it to be international, like the XMT or the WMC (World Memory Championship), then there is another problem, that of inadequate translations, because a translation of most phrases and sentences, is usually inexact, so there is a competition bias towards the easier languages. However such translation bias gets somewhat eliminated if you just present a simple word list to be memorized (like in XMT or Memory league). I compete in mental calculation and thankfully there is no such linguistic bias there, because the Hindu-Arabic numerals are universal for almost anyone on Earth.

3. The point of WMC is to benchmark and objectively measure who has the best human "short-term" memory on Earth. If you have an amazing memory, then that's a transferable conduit and obviously you can apply such memory to any field you like. In analogy, the same happens, let's say, if I install a DDR4 16GB 2.4GHz RAM memory in my PC's motherboard. Then, I can allocate and use such a silicon memory to any task I want. So, finding a short-term memory excellence is more objective when benchmarking simple tasks (such as decimal or binary digit recall) by brute-force or when measuring hard data recall by quantity and not by quality (via IRL knowledge). Besides, there are usually tons of opinions on which IRL facts are the most useful, qualitatively. For some folks, fields like law, geography, medicine or economics can be super-useful, but for some others, such fields could be completely irrelevant to their daily life. I don't see why should everyone be bothered to be tested to a specialized field of knowledge they don't really like. That's like re-doing high school chores. Also, most IRL "useful" or "meaningful" knowledge (except most mathematics), is always subject to a cultural bias and it's not objective. Even within science, there is plenty of unverifiable, dubious and speculative knowledge, even among the peer-reviewed facts.

But anyway, good luck if you are willing to establish such a competition. It may interesting to watch how and if it might evolve into something concrete.

Nodas, Greece

22 September, 2017 - 22:23
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Nodas, thank you for your very thorough and informative thoughts and counter arguments. I very much appreciate your ideas on this matter. For the cultural and language reasons of bias you mentioned, it makes sense that an international world memory championships using branches of knowledge would probably not be feasible. However, competitions for each country would be feasible - that way, if it is not in an English speaking country, the rules will be purposely biased in favor of those people who speak the native language of their own country. Steps could be taken to have respectable academics in each subject area choose the most reliable information to be presented in the competitions.

On your last point though, I do not see many of the memory champions actually using their amazing skills to memorize useful, practical knowledge - as they should be. It amazes me that with all that power of memory, they never seem to demonstrate publicly how they have memorized, for example, 1,000 types of animals, 1,000 facts about science, the 195 countries and capitals of the world, the main ideas and key points of an entire book, and so on and so forth. Ben Pridmore, for example, has a brilliant memory for numbers, cards, names and faces, but has he used that amazing ability to retain any practical knowledge? It would appear not. For reasons like these the public at large will continue to see the current memory championship competitions as interesting, but not practical for anything other than memorizing numbers and playing cards. It is our job as artists in memory to demonstrate the real usefulness of that power by demonstrating the ability to retain vast amounts of practical knowledge. The current memory championships are still fun, interesting, and worth competing in, but they are also very limited in the value they give to both the competitors and the spectators. Sure, the competitors gain a much better memory for simple things like numbers, cards, and random words, but that value would be significantly greater if they practiced memorizing useful, practical knowledge.

That is my take on the matter, but I encourage further thoughts and suggestions on this topic ;)

23 September, 2017 - 05:45
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Let me just chime in here a bit, since the XMT/MLC was designed exactly to depart from the standard 10 discipline memory competition, like you mentioned. While it's not 100% the format you're suggesting, it does attempt to include Surprise Events (which can be whatever the hell you want them to be). My ultimate dream was for a competition that was purely these kinds of events, but there are many problems with a competition like that because it does away with standards and records. While I agree that having a competition with fixed standards, measures, and records to go by (and to give new and old competitors goals to aim for) is not an end all be all, it does make a competition less attractive to many. For example, I think it's generally more appealing for weightlifters to want to train for the Snatch and Clean & Jerk because there are numbers to aim for that can categorize you as good, better, and the best and it's easy to track and measure your improvement based on those numbers. But, of course, the Snatch and Clean & Jerk are just two movements of many that you can do with weight and not necessarily "real-life use movements". Obviously there are strength and fitness competitions that break away from such strict tests, like CrossFit and StrongMan competitions. But even those competitions have standards and measure specific things like a row, or a push up, deadlift, etc.

Anyways, my point is, a competition like that would be great to have for variety and to give competitors both new and old a breath of fresh air (and even to maybe make it a little more media friendly and relatable to every day things), but I don't think competitions like that have a chance to become the staple competition of that sport.

I think XMT was a good example of that. We tried to make it purely that at the very start and we ran the risk of having no one show up or be interested in our competition. So we had to weave in a bit of both the random stuff and the fixed standard stuff. Even still, I would say after a number of years of our competition running, people don't consider that competition any better than the WMC. Most competitors still want to compete in the 10 discipline format. ::SHRUG::

23 September, 2017 - 06:46
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Quote:
On your last point though, I do not see many of the memory champions actually using their amazing skills to memorize useful, practical knowledge - as they should be. It amazes me that with all that power of memory, they never seem to demonstrate publicly how they have memorized, for example, 1,000 types of animals, 1,000 facts about science, the 195 countries and capitals of the world, the main ideas and key points of an entire book, and so on and so forth. Ben Pridmore, for example, has a brilliant memory for numbers, cards, names and faces, but has he used that amazing ability to retain any practical knowledge? It would appear not.

OK, you're mostly wrong here. Alex Mullen, 2-time world memory champion, uses his memory skills in Medical School. If you don't believe me, check out www.mullenmemory.com. Check out the many videos of Johnny Briones where he does exactly what you claim mental athletes don't do: memorizing world capitals, elements of the periodic table, and many other important facts. Check out the videos of Ron White and you'll find MANY ways of using memory for real-life applications. Check out Luis Angel's AE Mind channel on YouTube for MANY such wonderful applications of memory skill. I applaud you for your incredible amount of passion and interest for making memory skills meaningful and marketable. Fresh approaches are always a good thing, but I just want you to understand that you have some misconceptions, and you're far from the first to suggest memory techniques can be used better IRL.

Even in my job as a Finance Director, my skills in remembering figures off the top of my head, and recall names of important people around town and in my industry, have paid off in MANY ways to make me appear more competent than I would otherwise.

23 September, 2017 - 10:39
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Climbformemory, thank you for your most detailed and thoughtful response on this matter as well. I had not heard of the XMT/MLC competition until now, but I see it is linked to the Memory League in some way. Your analogy of different competitions for weightlifting is a great one! Variety is key. I'm currently working on teaching weekly free mnemonic systems and training people through a start up charity I'm creating, in addition to a side-business teaching mnemonic systems. After several months of practice with students and other people, I will do the first small scale competition of the kind I propose - that way, the Memory Club members will already have skill memorizing all kinds of knowledge, with my tutoring. We'll see how it pans out ;)

23 September, 2017 - 10:50
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tracym, you made made me laugh! You are most definitely right that several of the memory champions have used the techniques for practical learning, and have websites, YouTube channels, and other such outlets for teaching. My point was not that some memory athletes use the techniques for practical value, but that most of them give the impression that they do not use the techniques for practical value. I know very well about Mr. Mullen as a medical student, Mr. White and others' websites and YouTube channels. I appreciate your defense of their demonstrations to the public, and your strong commitment to using the memory systems for practical reasons of your own. I am currently working on teaching many university students and others for free in a weekly Memory Club I formed, and plan on doing small scale competitions with the aim of memorizing branches of knowledge. We will see how it develops and evolves. I'll keep you updated on developments in the coming future ;)

29 September, 2017 - 17:22
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Quote:

( then compete on memorizing useful knowledge, rather than just memorizing numbers, random words, and other such trivial pursuits.
what I am saying is that these competitions need to evolve, to move past memorizing non-useful data to memorizing useful data.)

For me to be able to memorize numbers is useful . When I was in shool we have subjects in which we have to memorize numbers like the date of a historic event in History, lots mathematical constants in Physics, tables, laws like R.A. 1123 something like that in Political Science and I can still remember back then when we were tasked to even memorize the atomic no. and weight of some common elements in the Preiodic Table in Chemistry.

So for me, it would really be an advantage to have a 2 digit or 3 digit system and I guess everyone who are in school should have a number system.

The thing with the binary digits and cards is that they will still use the same image as with the numbers
Example: Nail -(25)- (010 101) -( 5 hearts ) so it is still like memorizing numbers.

But I do agree that the current competitions should have events dealing with useful information so that it will show to the people the power of memory techniques.

29 September, 2017 - 17:27
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Quote:
If someone comes into the competition with years of prior knowledge about something like, say, geography, then it will probably not help them any more because they might be presented with 200 geography questions in a random order that they will then have to memorize and repeat back in the same order

My opinion is that memorizing the order of 200 random geography questions has no practical use. For facts and useful knowledge, it is the information that we should have to memorize not the random order of how they will be presented.

Numbers and Cards are different , they are abstract information . What memory athletes do is that they memorize the order of these abstract information.

So now if you might ask what woule be the practical use of memorizing the order of these abstract info. (I've read this somewhere in this forum ) Tony Buzan said that the current competitions promote creativity; creating memorable interactions in order for our bran to retain the info.

I believe our creativity or story making can be improved. Proof is that Alex Mullen can now memorize deck of cards in 15 sec. So now what would be the use of having an improved creativity or story making?
I've watched the competiton between Alex and Wang Feng in Super Brain in which they will have to memorize "flights" which I believe they do not usually do. What amazes me is the speed when they memorize the info. Maybe having an improved creativity saves time when we memorized information.

29 September, 2017 - 18:05
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MarkJoseph029, excellent reply and suggestions! Speaking of memorizing the periodic table, I just got done memorizing ten more on the list today with the atomic neighbor, symbol, weight, name, family, and the exact number of electrons per shell for each element. Without memory techniques, I could never do this in a million years, and I would lose my mind trying to remember it for a college course, without mnemonics. Hahahaha! The geography idea was just a random idea - some people would find it useful, others might not. The point is that memorizing knowledge is more interesting in a competition, in my opinion, than just memorizing abstract images, cards, numbers, words, and names and faces. Those competitions are fantastic, and I might even compete in one some day, but I'm just saying it would probably be more intriguing to have a competition where people use memory techniques to memorize college based subjects in the matter of a few minutes, what it takes most students to learn in three months to a year! You don't agree? Anyways, just a thought I put out there.

Each year it could change, if need be, but it could be ten events, perhaps. These are just suggested ideas. Maybe someone has a better suggestion?
1) U.S. History
2) European History
3) Latin American History
4) Chemistry
5) Anatomy
6) Physics formulas, equations, etc.
7) Mathematical formulas, equations, etc.
8) Plant families
9) Animal families like birds, etc.
10) World Geography, city populations, capitals, etc.

You are definitely right though, about mnemonics training our creativity. I just hope most people see the value of using that creative memory for useful, practical knowledge like science, mathematics, history, etc. I'm glad it has garnered many different opinions and ideas on it! ;)) Keep the suggestions coming guys! This topic is a fascinating one.

29 September, 2017 - 20:53
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Quote:
I'm just saying it would probably be more intriguing to have a competition where people use memory techniques to memorize college based subjects in the matter of a few minutes, what it takes most students to learn in three months to a year! You don't agree?

I agree with you Mnemon . As an audience, it is more interesting to see them memorizing useful information than abstract info and it would attract more people.

But if we are going to have competitions purely like that ( if we exclude the random order stuff like what you proposed), then problem would be the "fairness" mentioned by Parkouristx.

I agree with Parkouristx that "Knowledge based competitions would never be completely fair because people will have more knowledge than other people in different subjects."

That's why I like concept of XMT's surprise events. We could use these events for the knowledge and useful information stuff.

30 September, 2017 - 14:49
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MarkJoseph029, your points are admirable. The good news is that in a competition like the one I propose, the random order of knowledge presented would be in effect. That way competitors would never know what ideas exactly would be presented and in what order, they would just have a general idea of what subjects they would be competing in, and they would be encouraged to develop their creativity as much as possible for memorizing general knowledge.

It is just as fair a competition as the current competitions. It could be argued that people who practice memorizing thousands of numbers, abstract images and words, names and faces, and playing cards before the event are making it "not fair" by preparing so thoroughly for what they will be competing on. It would be the same for the event I propose. I admire your defense on that matter, and totally agree with you that it wouldn't be fair if the competitors knew what order the knowledge would be presented in. If, for example, one of the events was on memorizing chemistry, we would present the elements in random order, so even if they had the entire periodic table of elements memorized already, they would have to still memorize them in random order. Sure, they might prepare beforehand, but that is exactly what current memory competitors do now with playing cards, numbers, names and faces. I hope that irons out any misunderstandings. Your thoughts and suggestions are much appreciated ;)

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