The Method of Loci and Pi

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Most of us go through life unaware of what the mind is truly capable of. I’ve recently become interested in the photographic memory – how it works and whether it is something that can be developed. I did some research and came across an informative Ted Talk on this subject (https://youtu.be/LQMnMKREriM). What I discovered is that the brains of people who possess photographic memories are structurally and anatomically, no different from the average person. However, one difference is higher activity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for spatial awareness and navigation. Ultimately, what I learned is that photographic memories are not necessarily innate, they can be learned, and I wanted to try this out for myself.

One of the most effective techniques for remembering content using visual imagery is ‘the method of loci’, or the ‘memory palace’. The method of loci/memory palace involves creating a visual narrative/journey in your mind in order to retain certain content. Personally, I think memory palaces are a lot like dreams – weird events connected by a narrative. I thought this sounded intriguing and decided to try it using the digits of pi. I was going to attempt to create a visual narrative and attach numbers to different events, objects, people and places. I initially predicted that it would take me an hour to memorise 50 digits and I had planned to learn around 10-20 per day. What I did not expect, was that I ended up being able to memorise 100 digits within 20 minutes. So far, I have been able to memorise 340 digits in around 75minutes. Just to prove that I actually can do this and I’m not just talking a load of rubbish, I decided to post (a highly embarrassing) video reciting these digits. It usually takes me around 3.30min to recite them, so I would advise you to look away now if you get bored easily.

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104543266482133936072602491412737245870066063155881748815209209628292540

Some of you might be wondering, how on earth did I do this? Basically, I caught onto the memory palace technique very quickly and discovered several factors that really made the technique a whole lot easier, which I will discuss below.

Break up the numbers

First of all, I broke the numbers up into chunks based on visual appeal. I then focused on one number chunk at a time and inserted it into my narrative. For example, let’s take the first 11 decimals “1415926535”, I broke this up into 1415, 9, 265, 35. I then sat in bed, closed my eyes and tried to attach each number chunk to people, objects and places in my mind. The less distraction there is around you, the easier it will be to focus and retain the information.

The weirder your narrative, the easier it will be to remember.

The more obscure your story line or journey is, the easier it will be to memorise. For instance, let’s take the digits “2317253594081284811745”. I broke this up into 231, 72, 535, 94, 081, 28, 48, 111, 745. I imagined looking up at this gigantic spaceship with the numbers 231 on it, I then entered the code 72 on a panel to access the spaceship lift, I put my key card in and the numbers 535 popped up on the monitor, I went up the lift and when the elevator doors opened I saw the number 94. There were so many rooms on this floor that I needed help, the number 081 came bouncing along and brought me to room number 28. When I opened the door, everything was pitch black apart from two hands. In one hand there was a blue pill with the number 48, and in the other hand was a red pill with the number 111. I ask who was there holding the pills, it was Morpheus (from the Matrix) with the number 745 written on his forehead. A rather bizarre storyline as you can see…

What I also found interesting was that most people who use the memory palace technique tend to use only one location to implant their information, i.e. in a familiar place like their old family home. However, I used many different locations. For instance, I used an underwater world, outer space, a tunnel, a big Indian palace, and a cave are just to name a few. This technique worked best for me because it kept the storyline interesting.

Using your senses

Using the five senses can also help to retain information. Obviously, the sense of sight is the one I used the most. However, I also used the sense of touch on several occasions. For instance, there is one event in my visual narrative where the number “628” is gravitating in the air and it is made out of water. I can remember splashing my hand through each digit, and this helped me to remember how the digit felt and what it looked like. Another example, is the number “62” which I represented as a number on a gold coin. I can remember running my fingers over this number, the texture of it helped me to store these digits in my mind. So far, I have not really used the sense of taste, smell and sound, but I will try to incorporate these more in my next lot of digits to see if they are as effective as the sense of sight and touch.

Eliciting an emotional response

Attaching emotion to your narrative can make it more memorable. The emotion of fear is one I have implanted in my narrative quite a few times. For instance, the number “8034” is this huge number in the ocean swimming after me, with chomping teeth inside the circles of 8 and 0, and I am trying to swim away from this. Or take the number “12”, these are ninja’s that are trying to catch me because I shot the number 446. It all sounds incredibly strange, but it works.

Using objects, places or people that you like should also help to create a memorable narrative. For instance, I like Elon Musk so I imagined the number 9 and 265 tattooed on him. I also like Colin Farrell, so I imagined the number 745 written on his head. Furthermore, I am fascinated with outer space and therefore used this location as one of my memory palaces. I found that the numbers in this memory palace were particularly memorable compared to my other memory palaces.

Using the same digits and representations

This can help to speed up recall. For instance, the number “82” is always represented as a door in my narrative; a door that opens up into a new world each time. At first, I found this problematic. The number 82 occurred several times in the first 200 digits and I initially had difficulty remembering which world I was stepping into. However, recurrent practice resolved this issue and it actually helped to speed up my recall. Although, I would suggest not using the same representations and numbers too often. Personally, I found that using them once or twice per 100 digits was effective.

I decided to look up the word rankings of pi and discovered that so far, with 340 digits memorised, this would place me 150th in the world (once I get to 500 I will stop…as its starting to get a little boring). However, what I find unfair about these rankings is that time is not taken into account. For instance, someone that can recite 350 digits in 4minutes is placed lower on the rankings list than someone that can recite 351 digits in 25minutes. Personally, I think recall time should count for something. Also, if you think 340 digits is impressive. It’s really not, Lu Chao from China currently holds first place and can recite 67,890 digits! I find it incredible just how much storage our minds can hold.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, WHY? Why on earth would someone spend time trying to remember the digits of pi? What is the point? Without trying to sound offensive, I find this to be an incredibly stupid question. Mastering the method of loci could completely transform the way that I learn and perceive the world. Instead of planting myself in front of the TV for an hour watching some mindless, counter-productive TV show, I would much rather spend a small amount of time each day, learning a technique that could benefit many different realms of my life. If I can apply this technique to a real-life context, like my University studies, this could help tremendously with my exams and recall ability. I believe this is actually a major problem with the education system today. School and University students are overloaded with content and information, yet aren’t taught the effective techniques to retain and recall this information. People spend hours upon hours re-writing content to try and get it to stick in their mind, yet don’t realise there are techniques out there that could significantly speed up the learning process. Overall, this method has made me realise that there must be so many other mind techniques out there that I am completely unaware of. Simply taking the time to actively learn these techniques could completely change the way we think and learn.

Anyway, if you have found this interesting and want to give it a go yourself, I challenge you to remember the first 10 digits of pi in five minutes. First break it up into chunks, i.e. “14, 15, 92, 65, 35”. Attach these number to a narrative and try to memorise it in under five minutes. If you manage to do this, that’s a great start! And with practice, this process will become faster and faster.

Simulation Theory and The Sims

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Yesterday I was randomly watching The Sims 4 trailer and I realised this game actually acts as a simple and interesting analogy of simulation theory. While I may not necessarily believe in simulation theory, I do find it incredibly fascinating nonetheless.

Simulation theory is the idea that we are living in a computer simulation, an augmented reality controlled by an advanced super intelligent artificial being. This Sims represents this theory very well. Let’s take a deeper look and consider some comparisons of the sims reality and that of our own.

Dimensions

Humans see the world in 2D ½. We gather 2D data and assemble it into a 3D image. Technically, humans are not capable of seeing the world in “full” 3D. But what about 4D? Let’s pretend that every ‘sim being’ in the game is conscious and able to view their world in 2D ½. That would make our reality the fourth dimension. The Sims would have no way of knowing about us, no idea that humans are sitting in front of computer screens watching and controlling their every move. Now let’s apply this to our reality. There could be an artificial being observing you, right at this very moment, and you would have absolutely no awareness of it because it is in the fourth dimension. Scary right? Furthermore, these advanced beings could be controlling your everyday life. Maybe the choices we make are not really our own? This reminded me of an interesting quote from Westworld – “humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops, as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next”.

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Universal Laws

Another interesting comparison is based on game design and universal laws. Life in the Sims is governed by laws developed by human creators, and is limited by the game design. For instance, imagine a plate of dinner sitting on a table in the Sims game. If you click on this object, three options come up – you can either eat the dinner, throw it in the bin or leave it there and let it go moldy. Therefore,  in the Sims reality, the sim beings are confined to only three options/choices when it comes to food disposure. On the other hand, our reality is less limited. For instance, if dinner is on the table we could choose to eat it, throw it away, leave it, give it to the dog, throw it in the garden, put it back in the fridge and so forth. The rules of life in our reality are not so restricted. But now, let’s consider the fourth dimension. To us, the fourth dimension may seem limitless. The universal laws that govern this fourth dimensional reality would most likely be incomprehensible to human beings.

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World Problems

You may ask yourself, but what about at all the chaos, havoc and anarchy in our world? Why would any advanced/super intelligent being choose to install all this crime, hatred, murder and sickness into our reality. The answer to this, is curiosity. Let’s consider the Sims. How many of us remember placing a Sim a pool and removing the ladders? Or placing a Sim in a room, starting a fire and deleting all of the doors? Why as human beings do we feel inclined to perform these actions in the game? It all comes down to curiosity and experimentation, we want to know what will happen. Could this also apply to our reality? Maybe our world is simply a test simulation to see what would happen if ‘X’ occurs.

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While Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom are firm believers in simulation theory, I on the other hand, am a bit more skeptical. I’m not entirely sure what the actual point of all of it would be to a super intelligent being, I doubt it would be for entertainment purposes. One interesting theory proposes that the world may have reached a terrible state – due to war, climate change and so forth. Therefore, a simulated reality (which we live in) has been created in order to protect us from the harsh realities of the real world. Personally, I oppose this theory, because our potential ‘simulated reality’ could have been designed much better. Regardless, I hope this post served as an interesting read, and provided a simple/understandable analogy of simulation theory. Any further ideas, or feedback – both negative or positive, please leave in the comments, would love to know the thoughts of others on this.

Bacon and egg fried rice

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of rice (basmati or jasmine)
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 5 rations of eye or streaky
  • ½ a brown onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ a cup of peas
  • spring onion
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a pinch of dried chili

Recipe:

  1. cook the rice and set aside in the fridge
  2. on a medium-high heat add 1 tablespoon of oil to a drying pan or wok and cook the bacon
  3. once the bacon is crisp, add 1 more tablespoon of oil and add the diced onion
  4. once browned, add the garlic and fry for several minutes
  5. push all ingredients to one side of the pan and add 1 more tablespoon of oil
  6. break 2 eggs into the oil and mix
  7. once the eggs are scrambled and cooked, add half of the spring onion, the rice, sugar, peas, sesame oil, soy sauce, seasoning and cayenne pepper, mix until all combined and turn down to a low heat
  8. fry an egg in a separate pan
  9. place the rice in a bowl or plate and add the fried egg, the rest of the spring onion and chili for garnish

Breaking away from social media

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Social media or social manipulation? Today, most of us spend a significant amount of time living in a fake reality on an online world. A skewed society where people present the best versions of themselves, instead of the real versions. Pointlessly browsing through Facebook or Instagram rarely results in positive feelings about yourself and your life. If you skim through people’s profiles, you will see countless pictures of people looking flawless, attending noteworthy events, jetting of on extravagant holidays, staying in luxurious hotels, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house! All of these life events are positive. People scarcely post about the negative life events they go through. So many people encounter the same struggles, yet so little people open up about them on social media. How people portray their lives is not real and it’s not authentic. This unauthentic portrayal ultimately gives people an unhealthy and warped perception of life. The reality is, this roller coaster of life is full of both positive and negative events. The ups and downs of our individual journey’s are part of the natural human experience.

From the age of seventeen to twenty-four, like many others, I was somewhat consumed by the narcissistic world of social media; posting posing selfies, photos of my holidays, tagging friends, places and social events. It’s only been very recently, that I had an “aha” moment and realised, what is the point? While I still have social media, I decided to completely minimise my profiles for several reasons:

  • I started comparing myself to others. In the past, I had never been the type of person to compare myself to others on social media, because I knew it wasn’t real. However, being back in New Zealand, where there’s not a whole lot to do and see and life is seemingly basic and mundane, I found that my mind wasn’t overly preoccupied. Therefore, I ended up spending exceedingly more time on social media than usual. Another problem living in New Zealand, is that everyone here does the same thing. Everyone lives very similar lives. People are very eager to settle down, and settle down young. There isn’t a great deal of variety in how people choose to live their lives, as opposed to a more modern and liberal place like Hong Kong where I previously lived. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can create a sense of pressure. I started seeing repeated posts on Facebook of people getting married, engaged, having kids which began triggering feelings of inferiority; that I was behind in my life and so far from the stage that so many people seemed to be at. Subconsciously, I began to believe that I should be adopting this life script, that this mainstream lifestyle is the norm and is the life path I should be following. Yet in reality, I’m not sure I want this sort of life at all. We only have a very short time on this planet and a large part of me wants to spend it in a way that is unique; travelling and working overseas, growing as a person and learning about the world. I’m not sure I want to comply to the norm just because it’s what everyone else does. For this reason, I felt the need to break away from social media in order to maintain an authentic mindset.
  • Witnessing others consumed by their social media profiles. A few weeks ago, I was in a night club and ended up hanging out with a group of rather pretentious people, a group I suppose you would deem the “wannabe socialites of Auckland”. Even though I found this experience to be rather unnerving, I also found it to be incredibly eye opening. I remember watching a few of the girls; they were standoffish and moody, yet as soon as they got their phones out to take a snapchat video, their whole demeanours changed. They suddenly became lively, bubbly and acted as though they were having the time of their life. When they put their phones away, they quickly resorted back to their solemn selves. It was in this moment that I realised I never wanted to be like this. I never want to become so utterly engrossed by social media that it affects my actions and behaviours. Our existence is limited and it would be such a shame to spend such a large proportion of this time being so concerned about self-images and perceptions. It was for this reason, I decided to break away from the influences social media.
  • I realised, what is the point? I used to post dozens of photos of my holidays and the majestic places I visited, photos of inebriated nights out with friends and drunken selfies. Then one day I realised, what is the point? What is the point of showing people my life? How does it benefit other people’s lives and how does it benefit my life? Why am I actually doing this? I know that social media is fake, so why am I contributing to it?

Breaking away from social media has been a good decision, I no longer get the urge to post about where I am, what I’m doing or who I’m with. I now live my life more in the moment. I still believe there are some benefits to social media – staying in contact with friends and keeping up with social events. However, minimising my profiles has been a huge refreshment. While I dislike social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, there are still some domains I appreciate because they are authentic, real and relatable. One of these platforms are self blogs – I love reading people’s honest posts about their lives and experiences. A lot of bloggers aren’t afraid to talk about challenges they go through or negative emotions they feel. Another platform I really enjoy browsing through at the moment is reddit – this is a forum where no topic is off limits. Any topic that is taboo is discussed somewhere on this forum. It’s a place where people state their genuine thoughts and I find a lot of the posts very insightful. Finally, I enjoy watching certain YouTube vloggers. My favourite Youtuber’s are the ones that openly and honestly articulate their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. If you are interested to know, one of these YouTuber’s is ‘Mum to Millionaire” – while I cannot necessarily relate to her videos because I am not a Mother, what I do like is that she’s not reluctant to touch on a rather taboo topic – the struggles and regrets of parenthood (a subject I am weirdly fascinated with at the moment). My current favourite YouTuber, is a girl living in Singapore called Brianna Degasaton – in several of her videos she vents to the camera and openly talks about the struggles she goes through. In actuality, the struggles most of us go through. She is authentically herself, and her videos are highly refreshing to watch, you can find her channel here https://www.youtube.com/user/briannadeg.

If you are someone that is fed up with social media, tired of how it makes you feel, I hope some of these pointers are of help. I think disconnecting from the unauthentic platforms of social and connecting with more authentic platforms provides some solution – you’re still part of the online world, but the content you are viewing is more raw, real and relatable. As I mention repeatedly on this blog, we only live one very short and precious life, so make the decisions that will lead you to the best possible life – if social media is making you unhappy, change that and break away from it.

Dark Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 5oz 70% dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • a small pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup of cream

Recipe:

  1. On a bain marie, place the chocolate and butter in a bowl to melt
  2. once melted, take off the heat and add the salt, vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of sugar, mix and allow to cool for a few minutes
  3. separate 3 eggs and add the yolks to the mixture
  4. whip 1 cup of cream, add this to the mixture and combine
  5. beat the egg yolks, while slowly adding the rest of the sugar, until stiff peaks have formed and gently fold this into the mixture
  6. place the mixture in bowls or cups and leave in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours

One pot chicken, bacon and mushroom alfredo

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 2 teaspoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 rations of eye or streaky bacon
  • 1 brown onion
  • 4 mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cups of cream
  • 400g of egg fettucine (usually found in the fridge section)
  • A handful of parsley
  • A pinch of dried basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100g parmesan

Recipe:

  1. Add a teaspoon of butter to a frying pan
  2. Add one seasoned chicken breast (chopped into small pieces)
  3. Once chicken is just cooked, remove from the pan and leave to one side
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the same pan
  5. Add bacon and fry until cooked through
  6. Add 1 diced brown onion and fry until browned
  7. Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue to cook all ingredients for several minutes
  8. Turn the heat up to high and add chicken stock, cream, parsley, basil, seasoning and pasta and cook for around 3-5 minutes (or until the pasta is al dente), if the sauce reduces too much, add more chicken stock and cream
  9. Turn the heat to low and add the chicken, parmesan and 1 teaspoon of butter, mix and serve

Cutting ties – the five indicators that it’s time to let go

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Cutting ties with people and filtering out friends is a natural process most of us go through with age. Friend groups are ever evolving; old friends may leave your life and new friends may enter. For many reasons, friendships change; they may become stronger or they may dwindle and become strained. But when do you stop to think, enough is enough? What does it take to finally realise that trying to maintain a friendship is no longer worth the effort? Making the decision to cut ties with friends, particularly ones that have been in your life for many years can be trying, it can be difficult, and it can make you feel guilty. But usually, these alterations are for the best and will hopefully help to relieve any negative emotions you may have been experiencing as a result of detrimental friendships. Below are what I believe to be the five indicators that it’s time to cut ties and move on.

  1. The absent friend – a friend that is no longer present or available. If you have consistently called, texted, messaged on various occasions, only to be met with no response, it may be time give up. More importantly, if you have been going through a difficult time and have confided in your friend, yet they ignore you and turned a blind eye to your struggles, that is probably a strong indicator that you don’t mean a whole lot to them. Undoubtedly, one sided friendships do not work.
  1. The unreliable friend – a friend that continuously cancels on you. Obviously in many circumstances the reasons for bailing on a friend may be legitimate. However, if the cancellations become overly frequent and get to a point where it becomes inconceivably ridiculous, it may be time to part ways. Reliability is vital to maintaining secure friendships and a lack of it can create feelings of mistrust and doubt.
  1. The egocentric friend – someone that is concerned only with themselves, their wants and their needs. An egocentric friend is one that prefers to talk about themselves, their lives and their relationships, yet neglects asking about your life, and fails to consider the perspectives of others. A healthy friendship is one that involves mutual interest, as well as reciprocal care and concern for the other person. If you meet up with a friend and after the catch-up, feel as though you hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about your life because your friend never cared to ask, it might be time to let go.
  1. The defensive friend – a friend that isn’t willing to hear and consider alternate or opposing views. Having a good friendship doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your friend says or does. Close friends should be able to openly articulate their views, thoughts and beliefs, even if they are not in alignment with the views of their friend. A good friend is one that is eager to hear your advice, listen to your suggestions and value your opinion, whether they agree with you or not. If you have a friend that gets defensive and aggressive when you disagree with something they say or do, it may be best to lay that battle to rest and move on.
  1. The untrustworthy friend – a friend that talks behind your back. If you have discovered that your friends have been talking negatively about you to others, yet act pleasant and friendly to your face, its best to part ways with them. Maybe you have discovered that your friends have been explicitly bitching about you in a facebook conversation, or maybe you just have a gut instinct that they put you down when you’re not around…this lack of trust can be upsetting and not worth the emotional toll.

Let’s be honest though, no one is perfect. It would be rare to find a friend that perfectly fits all criteria. I will admit that while I would consider myself capable of being a good, supportive and reliable friend, there are still certain criteria I do not completely fulfil. But what is important, is to ask yourself, does the good outweigh the bad? Does your friend add something to your life? Does your friends presence bring you more positive emotions than negative ones? Personally, in any area of my life, once someone starts causing me more negative emotions than positive ones, that is the defining factor for me – the moment I know it’s time to let that person go. Unfortunately, poor friendships can make you feel more alone than if you were to have no friends at all. That constant longing for your friend to finally be there for you, only to be repeatedly disappointed can actually create undeniably feelings of loneliness. However, on a more positive note, I can say that once you have cut the destructive and depleted friendships off, you may feel an instant sense of relief. Those negative emotions you were experiencing may be instantaneously eradicated by a click of a button, deleting that person from your existence. Personally, I didn’t realise how low a certain failed friendship of mine had been making me feel until I eliminated that person from my life, and almost immediately, I felt a tremendous weight being lifted off my shoulders. If you are feeling unhappy in your life, I think it’s important to assess what exactly is making you unhappy. If certain friendships are contributing to your unhappiness, it may be best to cut ties with them and move on.