Our human interface with reality

The World Memory Championships

Provide useful estimates of the maximum rate of learning from images and digits:

Here is how they do it

and Here

The maximum learning rate from Images

One of the events in the world memory championships record holders, is to rapidly memorise one or more packs of randomly shuffled playing cards.
As there are just 52 cards, we can calculate the information required to memorise each card as 5.7 bits per card (the log to base 2 of 52).
We can calculate the information rate from the time taken per pack.
The world record holders can memorise a pack in just over 21 seconds.

Video of World Record event Simon Reinhard

This corresponds to 14 bits per second.
You can see just how difficult this is with the following examples:

One Card per Second = 5.7 bits per second – Click to Try

Two Cards per Second = 11.4 bits per second – Click to Try

Two Cards per Second but displayed in pairs each second – Click to Try

also = 11.4 bits per second. Note that UK champion Ben Pridmore found it faster by memorising 26 pairs of cards.

Note: My calculation of how many bits it takes to memorise a pack of cards in sequence, assumes an equal number of bits per card. However, if the subject remembers which cards have been eliminated, successive cards would require fewer bits and the last card would be obvious! This might appear to be a significant advantage, and it is for people playing games like blackjack where they have time to think, but it would require significantly greater mental processing to make it work, so is probably significantly slower overall.

The maximum learning rate from Decimal & Binary digits

You can experiment with the task of memorising numbers on this website Click Here 

The highest rates of all are achieved for simple maths tasks, such as adding a sequence of digits.

This task involves very little introspection as only the running total needs to be memorised.

The record for adding 100 decimal digits is 17.7 bits per second.

and the record for adding ten ten-digit numbers, ten times, is 16.7 bits per second

The results are nearly identical despite there being a factor ten between the task duration.

This suggests that we are seeing the learning bottleneck limit itself. Three subjects gave almost identical results too.

Mind athletes records for maths and memory, in bits per second, showing a maximum of around 18bit/s for simple and short duration events

World class Mind athletes records for maths and memory, expressed in bits per second


2 comments on “The Bit Rate of Learning – Evidence from Mental Athletes

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author on April 26, 2014 11:17 pm

Extreme Memory Tournament 2014, in San Diego, USA, this weekend, April 26-27. The tournament is hosted by 3-time USA memory champion Nelson Dellis, and sees 16 of the world’s top memory athletes (including 5 WMC winners) competing for a prize pool of $60,000 in a new style of memory competition. All events are short, head to head, and fully digital, with competitors typing their recall into laptops.
Watch Live: http://xmtlive.com/#/home
Will anyone break the Bottleneck record?

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author on April 27, 2014 10:45 am

Yesterday Johannes Mallow memorised 60 digits in a Time of 16.57 sec, = 11.95 bits per second (1 digit requires 3.32 bits).
Simon Reinhard memorised 1 pack of cards in a time of 26.32 sec = 11.26 bits per second (each playing card in a pack of 52 requires 5.7 bits). Remarkably similar information rate for cards and decimal digits! http://www.extremememorytournament.com/