Course Announcement: The Art of Memory

Course Announcement: The Art of Memory
I’m teaching an upcoming course on the Art of Memory. It’ll be an hour a week for five weeks starting on July 10th at 10:00 am on Saturday mornings. I’ll be using the online learning platform Hyperlink.Academy. I hope you’ll have the chance to join me and a group of people interested in exploring the topic.

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I’ve had a personal memory practice since I was about eleven years old. I started with an old correspondence course from the 1940s that I found on my parents’ bookshelf. I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty expansive. I’ve realized that the original system I learned was only a small fraction of some of the powerful techniques that humankind has created and evolved over the last 20,000 years. Sadly, the majority of this knowledge, which was once commonplace, has disappeared in Western culture.

As a kid, I used the techniques as they pertained to magic and parlor tricks like counting cards and Rubic’s cubes. Later I learned how to bend and apply them other methods. I learned new methods and used them to memorize material for classes. I discovered I could remember vast troves of information both for pleasure and for work.

Since then, I’ve been researching into the history of mnemotechniques in Western culture. I’ve been uncovering the practice in other oral and indigenous cultures. As a result, I’ve seen and experimented with dozens of other methods. Some are better and more flexible than others.

It’s rare that I encounter people familiar with even one or two of these methods. There are lots of books and internet fora dedicated to some of them. They’re generally esoteric, incomplete, or both. On the whole, they’re difficult to discover, and often even harder to learn—much less practice.

In 2011, Joshua Foer ignited some interest with his book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. He describes the magic of some of the extant systems and nibbles around the edges. But he doesn’t detail how to enter the space and leaves the topic as esoteric as he began. His book motivates the “why”, but doesn’t describe the practical “how”.

I have seen and read scores of hucksterish and facile approaches. They usually outline a handful of memory “tricks” which some people use intuitively. Most touch on only one or two aspects of a much larger and richer memory tradition.

I’ve also followed some of the bigger memory-related sites online. They discuss many pieces of the whole. But they don’t help newcomers get a bigger picture of what is possible or how to start a practice. Most people want something more practical for daily life. Many start out with interest, but they don’t get very far before abandoning the idea because they don’t find the benefit.

I know there is an easier way.

Based on my experience, I’d like to provide a solid overview and history of the topic. My goal is to give beginners a practical entry point. We’ll look at and practice the bigger and most useful techniques. We’ll also discuss some of the lesser known methods and where they can be applied.

I encourage students to bring a practical list of things they’d like to memorize for use in the course.

After a few weeks, students should have a solid base of knowledge upon which to found a regular memory practice for the rest of their lives.

Those interested can read a copy of the syllabus. If you have any questions about the course or want to discuss if it’s right for you, please reach out.

If you can’t join us for the first cohort this summer, I’ll likely offer it again in either the Fall or Winter.

Register Now

I look forward to seeing everyone in class.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

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.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

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.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

I’m not as well-versed in the history of educational technology as those like Audrey Watters, but after reading the opening of chapter 10 of The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, I’m prepared to call Pierre de La Ramée (aka Petrus or Peter Ramus) as the godfather of EdTech for his literal iconoclastic removal of the artificial memory from rhetoric and replacing it with his ‘dialectical order’.

To be clear, “Godfather of EdTech” is a perjorative.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

As I’ve been reading about Zettlekasten for part of the evening, it dawns on me that there are some likely overlaps with both my prior work on statistical mechanics and ideas of mnemonics and techniques like the method of loci. I’ll have to think of how to better memorize and specifically tag pieces of information into such a mental Zettlekasten. I wonder what might evolve?

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich