7 Best Mnemonists in the World + What They Do

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What is a mnemonist, and what do they do? How does someone become a mnemonist?

A mnemonist is someone who has an ability to recall data. Mnemonists usually gain their skills through practice and specific techniques, not because they have any sort of natural ability. In fact, most mnemonists agree that anyone can gain world class memory skills.

Read about some of the top mnemonists in the world and their best methods.

What Is a Mnemonist?

Throughout the author’s year-long exploration of memory, mental athletes were constantly telling him that anyone can learn memory techniques. Unlike savants, there’s nothing unusual about the brains of mnemonists. So what is a mnemonist, and what do they do?

However, mnemonists do tend to belong to a particular subculture. They dress unusually, enjoy juggling, often don’t have impressive day jobs, and many of them are male, young, and white.

Mnemonist Definition

The mnemonist meaning is simply a master memorizer. Part of the mnemonist definition that these memory masters deliberately work on their memorization skills. In fact, the best mnemonists compete internationally.

Here are some notables:

1. Tony Buzan

Tony Buzan is one of the most notable figures in the memory world, and other mnemonists have mixed feelings about him. Half of them think Buzan is a genius whose methods will transform the educational system, and the other half think he’s an unscientific moneymaker. Either way, the mnemonist meaning definitely applies to Buzan.

When Buzan was a child, his best friend Barry was put in the “dunces’ class” while Buzan was in the most advanced classes. However, Barry was very good with nature and animals—he could identify everything. Buzan realized that there was something wrong with the system—if the school thought Barry wasn’t smart when he clearly was, the system must be misdefining intelligence.

Buzan’s second ah-ha moment was in his first university class. Whenever his instructor took attendance and someone was missing, the instructor would call out their address, phone number, birthday, and parents’ names. Buzan asked the instructor how he’d done this. The instructor refused to tell him for a long time, but one day he explained the Major System to the entire class. 

Buzan again realized the failings of the educational system—the Major System was a game-changer, and no one had ever taught it to him until now. He was sure there were other important things he’d missed. He couldn’t find a book about how to best operate your brain—and there still isn’t one—but he did find the Ad Herennium.

Buzan learned memory techniques and then worked as a substitute teacher and taught them to students. He came up with a particular method of note-taking called a Mind Map, which is a bit of an on-paper memory palace. A Mind Map involves drawing lines between main and subsidiary points and using lines, color, and images to connect things. Scientists at the University of London studied Mind Maps and found that they resulted in about a 10% increase in retention than mainstream note-taking techniques.

Buzan now makes his living selling books about memory. He’s been more successful selling books than he has getting his techniques into the curriculum. 

Buzan started the World Memory Championship in 1991.

2. Ed Cooke

The mnemonist definition definitely applies to Ed Cooke, who coached author Joshua Foer. Cooke is a British mental athlete and a grand master of memory. (To be a grand master, you have to be able to memorize 1,000 random digits in less than an hour, the order of ten shuffled decks of cards in less than an hour, and the order of one deck in less than two minutes.)

Ed was the author’s memory technique coach. He finished in eleventh at the 2005 World Memory Championship after flubbing the speed card event.

3. Ben Pridmore

Ben Pridmore competes internationally in the memory competitions. Interestingly, he didn’t learn about the existence of memory techniques until he went to his first World Memory Championship. Up until then, he’d been using rote memorization. After learning techniques, he won the World Memory Championship in 2004.

In 2005, Pridmore planned to beat a world record by memorizing the first 50,000 digits of pi. However, an obscure Japanese mnemonist beat him to it by memorizing 83,431. It took Ben six months to clear pi out of his memory palaces. 

4. Lukas Amsüss

Lukas is an Austrian mnemonist and has achieved the rank of grand master of memory. He and Ed co-founded a society of memorizers called the KL7. KL stands for “Knights of Learning” and the 7 represents the original seven members. Lukas and Ed also have plans to start the Oxford Mind Academy, which is like a gym for brains, with Ed and Lukas acting as personal trainers.

5. Dr. Gunther Karsten

Gunther Karsten is another international mental athlete. He’s won all of Germany’s national contests since 1998, and takes the mnemonist meaning seriously. He wears earmuffs and sunglasses with tape covering most of the lenses to ward off distractions.

6. Corinna Draschl

Corinna Draschl is an Austrian mnemonist. She competed in the World Memory Championship at 15 and won the poetry memorizing event. She uses the emotional method.

7. Clemens Mayer

Clemens Mayer is an eighteen-year-old law student from Bavaria and one of Gunther’s students. He won the World Memory Championship in 2005.

The mnemonists listed above are either professionals or hobbyists that work consistently on their memorization skills. Mnemonists also agree that working on these techniques can improve memory abilities overall.

7 Best Mnemonists in the World + What They Do

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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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