mnemonics and numerals
August 6, 2011 11:07 AM   Subscribe

How do you remember numbers? I create reports about and analyze stats all day, and I'd like to be able to remember "off the top of my head" at least a few of the keys numbers that I'm looking at. What memorization techniques or just general reading habits work for you?
posted by scribbler to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If I need to remember them in the short term (i.e. to avoid flipping back and forth) I use the sounds of the numbers...finding the rhymes in them and so forth. This is good up to about 6-8 digits.

If I need to remember them forever, only serious memorization works, and I use Spaced Repetition software for that.
posted by michaelh at 11:18 AM on August 6, 2011

What the memory champs do is associate images to numbers. One system is having images for the numbers 1 - 100. And you need to know them like the back of your hand. I may get this wrong, but take for example the number 185305. 18 = Frank Sinatra, 53 = The Eiffel Tower, and 05 = Hippopatomus. Just picture Frank Sinatra at the Eiffel Tower riding a Hippopatomus which you can transpose to 185305. Google will have more details on these mnemonic techniques.
posted by jasondigitized at 11:35 AM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

For medium to long strings I break them up into two digit pairs, and associate those pairs with either friends/relatives' ages and birthdays, or the (20th century) years of historic events. It shouldn't really be any easier to remember "Greg's birthday, Munich putsch, Soviet invasion of afghanistan, Sally's birthday, Kennedy" than 0423798863 but for some reason it is.

On preview, jasondigitized probably has a slightly saner way of doing it.
posted by Ahab at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2011

I remember the layout/pattern they make on a telephone's number pad.
posted by theredpen at 12:13 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

What jasondigitized said is the way I do it.
There are different ways of coming up with the images for the numbers 1-100. The one I learned ages ago and still use is The Major System.

Basically each number becomes a sound and you build words from those sounds. So 0 (zero) is an 's' sound and 2 in 'n' so a possible image for '20' would be 'nose'

You can build up your images as you need them and it's fairly easy to translate from numbers to letters and back again. It won't take you too long to get used to it.

After learning the major system I tried to memorize pi to 50 digits just to see if I could. It took me about 15 minutes. I'm assuming you won't need to memorize 50 digit numbers though so it'll be faster for you. If you need to remember the numbers long term you'll have to review regularly.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 12:15 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I remember pi using the lengths of the words in "May I have a fresh container of coffee?"
posted by lucidium at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Create narratives and stories from your data as you look over it. As it begins to make sense to you, you'll be able to recall specific numbers from your data better .
posted by stratastar at 1:34 PM on August 6, 2011

Pi favorite:
See I have a rhyme assisting
My feeble brain its tasks
Sometimes resisting.
posted by hexatron at 1:50 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

My library card number (which I need to type in every time I want to check my account online, since they don't support a save info feature, grr!) is [letter]#########. The letter and first three numbers are easy to remember, just as the start of the group. The second three numbers happen to be one of the local area codes here, so that's also easy. The last three numbers are the last three numbers of a year something really important happened in history, so that's easy, too.

Basically, I find series of numbers that I recognize (area codes, birthdays, years, apartment numbers, that sort of thing) and then break the string up into small chunks.
posted by phunniemee at 3:04 PM on August 6, 2011

Also, something you might find interesting...there's a decently interesting Vonnegut short story called Mnemonics where the protagonist uses images to remember information. Like what jasondigitized suggests, only all of the character's images feature buxom women.
posted by phunniemee at 3:08 PM on August 6, 2011

I still remember my 14 digit university library card # that I haven't used in two years, and I am pretty sure I retained it because I would type it out while looking at my library card in chunks at a time, in the same way every time. Now I remember how those chunks sound together.

2004 1 8400 40166

So now instead of remembering 14 separate digits, I only have to remember 4 things, and a pattern like '2004' is easier to remember than a single digit.

So more than remembering the digits, I'm really remembering sounds, rhythms, and patterns.

I do this with other numbers that I use at work too. Split them up the same way every time you use them and soon you'll have memorized the chunks.
posted by alligatorman at 3:38 PM on August 6, 2011

When i describe my thought process in remembering a specific number, people think it's crazy and way more confusing, but it's really just one rule: associate each number with more than one thing.

I'll use alligatorman's library card number as an example.

2004 1 8400 40166

2+two zeroes=4(or the year I spent the summer in China) The one is a single digit. 8/4=two more zeroes (or my old address+100). 4+1 zero and 1=6, then there's just another 6 (or 401k and route 66).

It even seems silyl when I type it out, but because I've done this I'll probably remember alligatorman's old library card number tomorrow.

I do get numbers that I can't make a good chain like that for, in which case I just go rote.
posted by cmoj at 4:09 PM on August 6, 2011

The book "Moonwalking with Einstein" is all about the memory champs that jasondigitized mentions, and while it takes it to extremes that you may not need to reach, it gives you a good idea of how they do it. I would say it has just enough on the techniques that, although it's not really trying to be an instruction manual, you can get some good out of it. It probably had a bunch of further resources to check out, too.

Along with the images-for-numbers idea, and the Major System described by Mister Sleight of Hand, two more quick tricks:
-to make your mnemonic images more memorable, human nature would advise that they be especially graphic and sexual
-You can store your numbers in a "memory palace": basically, think of a place you know very well (e.g., a current/former home) and deposit your images along a pathway through the place: Method of Loci/Memory Palaces at wikipedia.
posted by bah213 at 5:26 PM on August 6, 2011

If you are anything like me, the first step is identify the particular numbers that you want to remember and write them down on a separate piece of paper (or post-it). Just choosing, writing and then looking at it written down goes a long way to help me remember things without deliberately commiting it to memory. It also helps if you think about what the numbers mean so that they become tied into your knowledge base.
posted by metahawk at 7:04 PM on August 6, 2011

I typically form a pattern of syllables to remember things - I can only remember the entire string at once though.

Are these things you want to recall useful for the long term, like pi or constants? Or do you want to remember them short-term, e.g. during 1-2 days for one report? If it's short-term, your best bet may be using a scratchpad near your keyboard for quick reference.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:33 PM on August 6, 2011

If the numbers are smaller, I'll look for mathematical relationships in the number string.
For example: 8124 : 8 + 4 = 12, or 2739 : 27 = 3 * 9

Or similar to the Sinatra on a hippo example, I think of sports jersey numbers:
99 = Gretzky, 23 = Jordan, and so on.

Longer numbers, those I tend to remember through number pad muscle memory or by making up jingles for them.
posted by emeiji at 6:26 PM on August 7, 2011

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