The Major System: Memory Technique For Numbers

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Moonwalking With Einstein" by Joshua Foer. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What is a major system in memory? How does it work, and can it really help you memorize numbers?

The major system is a technique where you memorize sequences of numbers by turning the number into a word, and the word into a place. Many top mnemonists use the major system of memory for events and tasks involving cards.

Read more about the major system in memory below.

Using the Major System to Memorize Numbers and Cards

The major system coves how to memorize numbers and cards.

Memorizing Numbers

There are several, ever-evolving systems for memorizing numbers. (Techniques are always evolving because mental athletes push the sport to new levels at every competition.) This summary will discuss two methods: the Major System and PAO. The Major System for memory is useful for things like phone numbers and credit cards, but to do the kind of heavy lifting required for international memory competitions, you’ll need to use PAO.

Using the Major System for Memory

The “Major System” for memory was invented by Johann Winkelmann and is a code for translating numbers into words, and then into images. Here are the steps:

  • Learn the code. Each number has a letter or choice of two letters assigned to it:
    • 0=S
    • 1=T/D
    • 2=N
    • 3=M
    • 4=R
    • 5=L
    • 6=Sh/Ch
    • 7=K/G
    • 8=F/V
    • 9=P/B
  • Transform numbers into sounds.
    • Example #1: 05=SL.
    • Example #2: 3928=MPNV
  • Transform the sounds into words. You can add as many vowels as you need for sense, and you can transform multi-digit numbers into multiple words.
    • Example #1: SL becomes “sail.”
    • Example #2: MPNV becomes “map Nevada.”
  • Transform the words into images.
    • Example #1: The word “sail” becomes an image of a brightly colored spinnaker sail.
    • Example #2: “Map Nevada” becomes an image of a map of Nevada.
  • Put the images into a memory palace.

A Major System Memory Exercise

The major system is a method for remembering numbers. Here’s a review of the system. Thinking about this when using the major system for memory:

  • 0=S
  • 1=T/D
  • 2=N
  • 3=M
  • 4=R
  • 5=L
  • 6=Sh/Ch
  • 7=K/G
  • 8=F/V
  • 9=P/B

What letters does the number 33 correspond to? How can you add vowels to turn these letters into a word?

How can you transform this word into an image?

What letters does the number 1548 correspond to? How can you add vowels to turn these letters into a word, or into multiple words?

How can you transform the word or words into an image?

Recall the two images you came up with. What numbers do they correspond to?

A major system in memory can help you memorize complex systems of numbers. It’s one of the many techniques used by Joshua Foer in Moonwalking with Einstein.

The Major System: Memory Technique For Numbers

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Joshua Foer's "Moonwalking With Einstein" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Moonwalking With Einstein summary:

  • The memory techniques that took the author from novice to US memory champion in one year
  • The 6 key types of memory we use everyday
  • Why memory isn't just genetic, and how you can improve your memory with the right techniques

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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