The Lense

What Is The Art of Memory?

It begins in Classical Greece, in a vast banquet hall sealed in marble. Guests are scattered around a great table, jovially chatting together.

Simonides has had a good night and good conversation, and feels the need for a breather… but as he steps outside, the great hall collapses. Crushing the guests inside.

Hours later, helpers sifting through the carnage, no recognisable part of a person can be found. They don’t know who was there.

Simonides thought for a moment, and closed his eyes. Mentally turning back the clock, he walked back into the busy vibrant hall… and as he mentally walked around the table, he named every person at the table.

This was the birth of The Art of Memory… or so the historians say. Contained in this story, is everything you need to recall volumes of information… with comparitive ease.

Reading up on memory in the [Rhetorica Ad Herenium], gives a slightly different perspective, and more recent texts do too… but all seem to settle on a few fundamental principles.

Here are the principles:

  • Visual & Spatial
  • Sequencing
  • Chunking
  • Associations and Linking
  • Emotions
  • Repetition

…and an applied into a story to memorise them:

You begin your walk with seeing a flaming Eye of Ra in front of you… a burning map flys away from the flames… to land on three bright colourful blocks, the kind babies use with “1, 2, 3”… The blocks fall over towards a madman with a chainsaw chopping wood into pieces… all falls down into a web below… and as you climb through the web… you walk into a terrible horror-filled place… and as you peer through the darkness, you begin to see burning flames of the Eye of Ra again.

This improvised example was used on an unsuspecting victim. I didn’t ask him to remember it… but 24-hours later, he still recalled every detail, in the correct order. To top it off, I then taught him what it all meant.

Imagine for a moment, the dreariest knowledge you need to know. You know, the kind of information that sticks around like a getaway driver.

Now imagine if you could spend 5-minutes of fun, making those facts so bizarre, so ridiculous, that you’d smile every time you recalled it.

Would that be so bad?

I’m not yet equipped to be a great teacher of this, but I can point you where to start:

  1. Read Joshua Foer’s brilliant book, Moonwalking with Einstein

  2. Go down the rabbit hole, with The Art of Memory on Wikipedia

This project is maintained by am01264