"Imagination is the intermediary between perception and thought." --Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory
During antiquity, the art of memory was a vital part of the education process. In a world with limited writing resources, one had to rely more strictly upon their mind to record information. From the Greek philosopher, to the West African griot mnemonics was as indispensable as the tongue for the public speaker or entertainer.
The trained memory fascinates me. Whether it’s Harry Lorayne memorizing several hundred names on The Tonight Show or the poker player memorizing percentages & cards played, the uses of mnemonics makes me want to learn how to strengthen my mind.
And in a world where iPhones & Blackberrys can substitute for brain activity, I believe mnemonics still has a place and not just for party tricks. An organized mind is the key to a trained memory. But few of us have ever been shown how to organize it. Organizing one’s mind & cataloguing information that you want to store, is a challenging, interesting exercise which can make learning new things…well…challenging and interesting.
The aspect of memory I’m working to master is the craft of association. This is the foundation upon which all memory is built, trained or untrained. We associate naturally, so it’s easy to do. But some associations are more apparent than others. For example, if someone with a thick beard and flowing hair, introduces himself as Harry, you’ll probably remember without trying. But if his name is Vladimir, it could be tougher.
And this is where the game comes in. You may have a place in your mind to put Vladimir’s face & features. So the organization is there, but if you don’t have a way to make the hair and name “stick” to one another, you are more likely to forget. Yet the ways we make our associations work is curious.
Obviously, things linked to our hobbies and interests can most easily be made into associations. But what about after that? Can one get good enough to make every Vladimir into a Harry? I believe so. But it takes work. The key, as in most learning, is to ask why. When you forget something, ask yourself why the association failed when the one right before it succeeded. By answering that question, you can better learn how best to stimulate your recall capabilities.