Securing memories on the page would seem to be an immensely superior way of retaining knowledge compared to trying to hold it in the brain. The brain is always making mistakes, forgetting, misremembering. Writing is how we overcome those essential biological constraints. It allows our memories to be pulled out of the fallible wetware of the brain and secured on the less fallible page, where they can be made permanent and (one sometimes hopes) disseminated far, wide, and across time. Writing allows ideas to be passed across generations, without fear of the kind of natural mutation that is necessarily a part of oral traditions.
Wasn’t that elegant. I wish I had written it.
That is a passage (and one I am warned not to quote for purposes of review) from Joshua Foer’s upcoming book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering. It’s from The Penguin Press and releases on March 7.
Yes, Foer’s surname is familiar. He is the younger brother of Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated. Josh, who used to call his older brother “Jonny,” was a recent college graduate living with his parents when he began this book, though it is clear from my advance reading that he is already an accomplished writer – at least of nonfiction.
Let me leave you with 2 other snippets from the book.
When St. Augustine, in the fourth century A.D., observed his teacher St. Ambrose reading to himself without moving his tongue or murmuring, he thought the unusual behavior so noteworthy as to record it in his Confessions.
Writing, you see, was once seen as no more than the best way to memorize things, and the state of inscription at the time actually required any reader to have pretty much memorized the text already. Accordingly, since most readers “performed” a piece aloud, it was practically unprecedented to imagine that anyone could understand what they were reading without at least subliminally “speaking” the words.
Need an example? GODISNOWHERE. Agree or disagree?
Want more of Foer? Check out his Website.