While searching for a digital copy of Cursus mathematicus (1634-67) by Pierre Hérigone (as one is wont to do), I serendipitously stumbled across Seth Long‘s (@SethLargo) brand new book Excavating the Memory Palace: Arts of Visualization from the Agora to the Computer (University of Chicago Press, December 2020). Naturally it was an immediate impulse buy. Looks like he’s also got some interesting papers on rhetoric/memory kicking around. These look pretty awesome in terms of substantiating some of the memory related work I’ve been looking at lately.

Sadly, I still need a clearer copy of Cursus. Is there an English translation out there? Any academics have non-published copies? Like to publish a copy? I’m happy to muddle through Latin or French especially if it’s an OCR/searchable copy, but it’s a stupidly long text for the assuredly short section on memory I’m seeking.

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I’ve just gotten a copy of Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting by Lisa Genova which came out earlier this week.

Simple white book cover of Remember by Lisa Genova featuring a piece of red string tied into a knotted bow

I’ve thumbed through it quickly and done some targeted searches of the text. From all appearances, it looks like she’s approaching the topic of memory from a neuroscientist’s perspective and talking about broad psychology and culture.

There are a few references to the method of loci and a tangential reference to the phonetic major system in chapter 5. She approaches these briefly with a mention of Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein and his PAO system (without using the word Person-Action-Object), but dismisses all too quickly.

But you would have to do a lot of memorizing before you can actually use these techniques (and others like them) to remember the stuff you’re interested in remembering. If the thought of doing this kind of mental labor sounds exhausting, I’m right there with you. I don’t have the dedication or time. Unless you’re motivated to become an elite memory athlete or your life’s dream is to memorize 111,700 digits of pi, I suspect you don’t, either. Most of us will never want or need to memorize that kind or that amount of information. But many of us would like to be better at memorizing the ten things on our to-do list, our Wi-Fi password, or the six things we need at the grocery store.

Sadly she doesn’t bring up the much easier to use phonetic major system, but blows right by it.

I’ll try to delve into the rest of the text shortly, but I was really hoping for more on the mnemonics front. I mnemonists won’t get much out of it on the techniques front, but might find it useful for an overview of the neuroscience or psychology fronts from Hermann Ebbinghaus onwards.

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I just ran across and am happy to follow Anasuya Sengupta (@Anasuyashh) and
Whose Knowledge? (@WhoseKnowledge) via the New_Public Festival (#NewPublicFestival). Whose Knowledge is “a global campaign to center the knowledge of marginalized communities (the majority of the world) on the internet.”

As I’m reading Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly‘s (@Lynne_Kelly) Songlines: The Power and Promise, I’m curious to explore how the work of  Whose Knowledge might possibly help to empower oral cultures that are neither written down nor on the internet? Also how might this also empower their “third archive”?

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Birds of North America Texts and Field Guides

Birds of North America Texts and Field Guides
Spent some time tonight looking at the seven most popular bird books for North America for my memory project. I’m still figuring out how to set up the memory palace for the project though. Lots of data to encode. 

While all are generally solid I’m arranging them for data/information, layout, and image purposes. Here’s the rough order of preference I think I’m going to put them in moving forward:

  • American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America (and/or the Western Region) (DK)
  • The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America
  • National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 
  • Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America
  • Sibley Birds West
  • Golden Field Guides: Birds of North America

I’ll probably buy the top two as I proceed. It looks like DK just published an update to theirs in the last month! In particular, I like the volume of detail of the DK edition and the layout for potentially making memorization easier. 

Now to figure out how to best lay out the various pieces. I’m thinking that Lynne Kelly’s idea of using a Lukasa memory board may be best. But what to fashion it out of and how?

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Winter Counts and related holiday traditions

Some indigenous American tribes kept annual winter counts which served as both a physical historical account of their year, but served as visual mnemonic devices leveraging a bit of the idea of a drawn memory palace along with spaced repetition by adding a new image to their “journey” each year.

I was reminded about the idea over the weekend by a dreadful, cheeseball Hallmark Holiday movie A Royal Christmas Ball (2017) (please don’t torture yourself by watching it). The two main characters had a Christmas ritual of creating a holiday ornament every year for their Christmas tree with a design that represented something significant in their lives that year. Because most families generally use and reuse the same ornaments every year, the practice becomes a repeated ritual which allows them to reminisce over each ornament every year to remember past years. It’s a common occurrence (at least in Western society) for people to purchase souvenir ornaments when they travel, and these serve the same effect of remembering their past travels.

If others haven’t come across this idea as a fun mnemonic device for the whole family with built in spaced repetition, I recommend you give it a try. Just don’t everyone necessarily make coronavirus ornaments for this year.

Non-Christians could leverage a similar idea for their annual holidays, feasts, or events if they like. Of course, you could follow the Lakota tribe and make a more traditional winter count.

For those interested in some of the further history and description of the idea of an annual count in the framing of mnemotechny, I would recommend LynneKelly’s book Memory Craft or some of her more academic works.

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