About mnemotechnics

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About mnemotechnics.

 


I realize that in these matters it is easy to place yourself between two chairs. For a beginner - new to mnemotechnics -  this may be close to incomprehensible and for the trained sheer banality. For the trained I should recommend to go to Improved double System, because that is where the interesting news are.

For those who find this a bit incomprehensible - follow the links in the articles. There is a lot of good information to find.

I once read an article in an old Readers Digest about  brain surgeons, who had opened the scull of some poor fellow. One of the surgeons accidentally touched the brain with one of his tools and the patient immediately experienced a very vivid memory flashback on how he once heard a horn orchestra. He heard the music actually as if it was played that very moment. Repeating the process the surgeons were able to wake up more memories the patient didnít even know he had. It seems that everything we have ever experienced in our lifetime is present in our brains.

It is said that the French emperor Napoleon had some extraordinary multitasking abilities. He could dictate 10 letters to ten secretaries, play several chess parties and even pick his nose at the same time. Well, something like that.

The German author/poet Goethe met  Napoleon in Erfurt in 1808 and asked him how this feat  was possible. Napoleon answered that in his mind he had a giant dresser with a lot of drawers in which he put his tasks. So moving from task to task he just opened the appropriate drawer and in it he always found the right task and it never failed him.

So if all our memories are present in our brains how come we donít remember everything or maybe rather, why do we forget things. The reason could be, we donít know where our memories are and we donít know how to find or acces them.

This is where mnemotics kick in. To remember something you have to localize things - - loci (plural of Latin locus for place or location more of that later -> what is called a memory-palace) and bring what we want to remember into an easy memorable form. Numbers can be very difficult to remember, I donít think peopleís minds are made to remember numbers. In the process of evolution numbers came in too late so there was not made a special place in our brains  for remembering them. So you have to give numbers a special treatment to remember them, put them in a form our mind are fit to handle.

But still there are people or at least one man probably more, who can memorize a 100 000 decimal places of pi (the circumference divided by the diameter of a circle).  Regarding that matter it is a little unclear as to who has the world record, but take a look at:

http://math-fail.com/2010/03/memorizing-pi-world-records-and-techniques.html

Why anyone would like to be able to do that is another matter. I think it is because you can. And itís a competitive sport to do it, too. If you are the type that canít remember your own cell phone number, well, it gives you something to think about. You can actually easily learn to do that with  rather simple methods. I mean, remember phone numbers and other numbers, too, like your credit card number. There are actually several mnemo techniques that can help you in that regard.

Well, we always begin with the ancient Greek, donít we? Here, too.   The Greek poet Simonides attended a big dinner, but just as he left the room,  the roof collapsed and killed all the guests. Trying to identify the bodies, he found he was able to remember the places where each of the guests had sat during the dinner, and so he invented the mnemo discipline, at least the method of loci. Which is also called the memory palace. Iíll expand on that matter later.  How much is legend or lore, itís hard to decide for me. You can read about here:

http://rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/11/chapter2.html

 It is said that the matter of mnemotechnique was a part of the rhetoric discipline. The most famous book ĎRhetorica ad Herenniumí about it is however written by a Roman. At first it was attributed to Cicero but recently other writers have got the honor. In ĎRhetorica ad Herenniumí most of the mnemo  techniques we use today are described. You can find it online translated into English:

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Rhetorica_ad_Herennium/

Best Regards

Villy Dalsgaard

Any commentarys or suggestions are welcome.

 viidal@gmail.com

 

 

           
   

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