Netflix is my new friend after the first episode of The Mind, Explained.

Usually the stuff on Netflix is geared to a broader audience with its array of kids movies, romantic comedies, dramas, explosions, guns, lame dialogue and overdone cliched storylines.  When will they ever make a superhero movie?  Kidding!

Recently I saw a program that I would say is the best show on Netflix.  And it's called 'The Mind, Explained.'

At first I thought there would be lame fictional fare such as a Morgan Freeman voiceover spewing a falsity that we only use 10% of our brains.  However, on this show there are no actors pretending to know stuff.   It is instead cast with modern superheroes of neuroscience and superstar experts!

Such as?

Richie Davidson, Robert Sapolsky and Elizabeth Phelps.

Richie is a Harvard graduate and has been studying the brain, emotions and resilience since 1976.  He has also been in Time magazine as one of the top 100 people that is transforming our world.  He's published hundreds of papers which is highly impressive, and he's been nominated for two Pulitzer prizes.  So when Richard Davidson is in a special about the brain, it's something worth watching.  He has also studied the brains of the worlds greatest meditators such as Mingyur Rinpoche who has put in over 70,000 hours.  Richie has also become good friends with the Dalai Lama.  So Richie Davidson is a heavy hitter which already makes this Netflix special worth viewing.

Another great is Robert Sapolsky.  He is a neuroendocrinologist, author, professor of biology, neurology and neurological sciences and, by courtesy, neurosurgery, at Stanford University. He has written some classic books such as 'Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers' and 'Behave.'  Both are superb.  And he's been on the Joe Rogan podcast along with numerous specials about the brain. He has also won awards for his research.

Now here is the one that makes me a giddy fanboy.  The episode on memory has Elizabeth Phelps!  She is one of the scientists that was involved in a landmark study in 2009 which proved that human memories can be edited through a process called reconsolidation.  If you follow any of my work on this site you'll know how often I cite papers on this phenomenon especially for getting over a breakup and reducing PTSD symptoms using interventions based on the reconsolidation of memories.  So now when I saw her contributing to the episode on memory, it just further cemented how solid the data is in this show, which for me,  makes it the best show on Netflix.

So what makes it so great apart from the brilliant scientists?

In the episode on memory they share some info about the brain and how we record memories.  Then they show a woman who uses this information to become a memory champion.  What does she do to boost her memory powers?


When you combine those pieces you can make things very memorable.
What does that combo look like in the real world?

That's where we get to witness the strategy of a woman that has 3 world records in memory.
Yanjaa WIntersoul has a world record in images, names and faces and words.

To test her out, they gave her a list of 500 random numbers and ten minutes to memorize them.

Like the true memory champion she is, Yanjaa recited the five hundred numbers perfectly.

How did she use emotion, story and place to make memorizing easier?

When they give her the list of 500 numbers, she would turn them into letters and words. Then she would turn those words into a story. Then she would have that story mounted on a location that she's familiar with.

For example,  if the number was 539 she would turn the 5 into an S, the 3 into an A and the 9 into a G to make the word SAG. For the number 166 she would make the 1 into the letter T.  The 6's are the letter B.  So then she makes a word with a T and a couple B's which was tabbula, a Mediterranean dish.  Then in her mind she would imagine an old saggy skinned person covered in tabbula. To her that translates into 539 166.  She would continue like this turning each chunk of numbers into words with which she would use to concoct a 'disgusting' story.  Disgust is a great emotion that helps you remember stuff.
She would then tell herself this story while remembering a location she knows very well. She would imagine walking through the streets and that her path is covered with the objects from her memory test. This technique is also known as memory palace which might be familiar to fans of Sherlock Holmes.

Here is her description of what she is doing in her mind to make her memories more impactful for future retrieval.

Again she turns the numbers into letters and the letters into words.

Then the words are given bizarre contexts because memories are more easily formed with multi-sensory novelty rich experiences.  This is why she turns these boring numbers like 468 and 478 into weird things like mountains of ravioli and a reef.

After that she imagines placing all those weird objects onto a map in her mind of an area she knows very well.


This isn't a simple trick of the mind but it is easier to work with the brain when you know some of how memory works. When you know how the system works, you can work the system and that's exactly what all these memory experts are doing to achieve such extraordinary results.  It's not just that she is memorizing hundreds of numbers and hoping that the memories stick.

Instead she is doing all kinds of mental gymnastics that forces her brain to lock in and load bizarre narratives with weird objects and disgusting scenarios. It's a remarkable feat and certainly worth watching. It is this crew of scientists and people with world record skills that makes this the best show on Netflix. Hopefully you won't need a fancy memory technique to remember to watch it!

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