The Rule of Limits


I love this video, first because of the kid’s uncanny resemblance to Young Forrest Gump. Second, because of the reaction of the other kids  — they’re stunned, thrilled, and ignited by his performance. (If he can do it, why can’t I?)

But the main reason is that it holds a useful strategic lesson. This kid has memorized a massively impressive number by breaking it down in three- and four-number chunks — and then linked those into larger chunks (check out the pauses as he moves from one string to the next).

We instinctively think these kind of barrier-breaking feats are accomplished with overwhelming force — a superpowered “photographic” memory. But that’s an illusion.  In fact they’re accomplished by small, flexible efforts, repeatedly and strategically applied.

We think it’s Goliath. But underneath, it’s really David.

ps — Do lots of schools do this pi contest? It strikes me as a fun, simple way to get kids amped about math, not to mention the power of their brains.

pps — Speaking of limits, check out WNYC’s RadioLab show this week. It’s about what happens when we get close to the edge of physical and mental performance. (Yep, I’m on it.)

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2 Responses to “The Rule of Limits”

  1. MC Ngok says:

    My elementary school did. My best friend Jordan memorized it out to something like 100 places, which I thought was pretty amazing, but I think this kid blew him away. 🙂

  2. Alex says:

    You make it into images, put it into a “loci”, retrieve while you walk through it.

    More advanced techniques you make a number code that you train to decodify quickly so you can put more numbers into the same image/place.

    Then you pratice. 😀

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