The world record for memorizing the greatest number of digits of Pi belongs to Chao Lu of China, who memorized 67,890 digits. He set this record on November 20, 2005. He actually memorized about 100,000 digits, but made a mistake on digit #67891…bummer. While this feat is certainly extraordinary, the amazing fact is that this “extreme” memorization ability is within the capabilities of the average person! How? By using methods and techniques which have been known for centuries. The skill is so simple that even a two-year old can do it.
We have all heard that the reason why telephone numbers are seven digits is because that is what the average person can easily remember. However, that is true only for short-term memory. What most people can store in long-term memory is almost LIMITLESS. The trick to remembering a long sequence of numbers is to string smaller sequences of its numbers together.
There are hundreds of books on the subject, and we have looked at quite of few of them over the years. The basic strategy is to make use of our visual memory and to link chunks of information together via that visualization (stories after stories, pictures within pictures, rooms inside a house, etc). The concept is almost fractal in nature. The structures are similar, but the exact nature of each are slightly different.
Of the different books we have reviewed, we especially liked Daniel Tammet’s books because they are first-hand accounts from a functional savant. Before Tammet, the most famous savant was Raymond Babbitt, as portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 movie Rain Man. Unlike Babbitt, Tammet can tell us what is going on inside his head, and what is going on inside Daniel’s heads is a condition called synesthesia, or a mixing of the senses. It is this neurological crosstalk between the senses which enables Daniel to have such a prodigious memory. For Daniel, numbers are shapes, colors, textures, and even emotions. Imagine if someone said the number “37” and the feeling of porridge is evoked, or hearing the number “89” reminded you of falling snow? That is what it is like for Daniel.
BTW, Daniel Tammet is the current European/British record holder for remembering the digits of Pi. He is ranked 6th in the world with 22,514 digits. One of the chapters is a fascinating account of him studying for that particular record. His memorization strategy, based on his synesthesia, was unique to him. Of course, not everyone has the Tammet’s biological quirk. However, we should all take comfort in the fact that Chao Lu, using the story-telling technique available to anyone, was able to far exceed Tammet’s biological “advantage.”
Developing a good memory is within everyone’s capabilities. All it takes are some simple techniques and the willingness to invest the time and effort. We are going to do exactly that. Our first goal? Memorizing the first 50 digits of Pi. While it is a long way from the world record, the point is to take the first step. We will report back when we have succeeded.