The memory palace

As we increasingly augment our minds I sometimes pause to reflect on the trade-offs we are making. What powers does the unaugmented mind possess? What do we give up when we outsource our memories to the collective electronic mind? In Dilemma of a Cyborg Carina Chocano writes:

For everything that’s gained by our ability to store and maintain more information than ever before, something is lost that has to do with texture, context and association. The science journalist Joshua Foer, author of “Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” said in a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts that people once “invested in their memories, they cultivated them. They studiously furnished their minds. They remembered. Today, of course, we’ve got books and computers and smartphones to hold our memories for us. We’ve outsourced our memories to external devices. The result is that we no longer trust our memories. We see every small, forgotten thing as evidence that they’re failing us altogether.” As we store more and more of what makes us us outside of ourselves, he said, “we’ve forgotten how to remember.”

The mnemonic techniques rediscovered in Moonwalking with Einstein were first popularized by Cicero. You bind memories to images, and then you bind the images to a path through the rooms and hallways of a “memory palace.”

Here’s another technique that isn’t so well known. I attribute it to Carlton Fisk by way of a story I heard from the baseball writer Roger Angell. Somewhere in the 2000s, Angell asked Fisk to reflect on what had most altered the game of baseball since his playing days. The salaries? The drugs?

No. The game-changer, Fisk said, was instant replay. His game-winning 1975 home run is one of most-remembered moments in all of sports. The video of that event is one of the most-watched clips. You might think that Carlton Fisk has seen that clip a million times. But in fact, he told Roger Angell, he never watches it. That’s because he doesn’t want to overwrite the original memory, which is his alone, recorded from a point of view that was his alone, with a memory we all share that was recorded by a camera up in the stands.

We can’t do away with instant replay, nor do we want to. But it’s worth remembering how to experience life, even when we know it’s being recorded externally, as if the only cameras are the ones in our heads.

8 Comments

  1. The grandfather of a friend of mine once complained, “Everything’s like scripture these days.” He was talking specifically about people listening obsessively to slowed-down recordings of solos by Hendrix and Clapton so that they could learn to imitate them note by note, but I wonder what happens when everything can be fact-checked, and when every deviation, however slight, from the “official” version of a song or story can be detected? http://www.amazon.com/Imperfect-Art-Reflections-Portable-Stanford/dp/0195063287

  2. Funny you should post this today as Wired.com has an interesting article on a related topic, Learning:

    http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/01/everything-about-learning/

    It’s an interview of Robert Bjork, director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab. Total Recall, Memory, Learning all are interestingly intertwined and not always the mortal enemies of one another. Additionally the electronic means of ‘remembering’ adds a whole other layer into the mix of what Robert Bjork is specifically studying.

  3. DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO BUILDING YOUR OWN MEMORY PALACES, JOURNEYS, ROOMS etc. FOR MEMORISATION AND STUDY AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM FOR JUST $8.99

    “MEMORY PALACE DEFINITIVE”
    James Smith

    * based upon simple, easily memorised code using numbers 0-9 and the
    alphabet
    * uses Locations that are easily visualised
    * includes ten fully populated and easily visualised “Locations” for
    immediate use
    * compatible with memory master Dominic O’Brien’s system for memorising
    letters and numbers
    * thorough A-Z bibliography with page references for each area of study
    and memorisation required
    * shows how to recall page numbers for texts over 1000 pages in length
    * many possibilities as a general memorisation system and for imaginative
    stimulation
    * shows how to use wasteful browsing habits to make study easier
    * suitable especially for students of ages 16 upwards through all levels of
    university and professionals who need to memorise a lot of material
    * my preferred suggestions for making the most of your intelligence
     
    For improved intelligence and study, I would most recommend a habitual combination of:

    * the memory palace technique (this book)
    * mind mapping
    thinkbuzan.com/iMindMap
    * Harry Kahne’s multiple mentality (full brain exercising) course:
    http://www.rexresearch.com/kahne/kahne.htm, several of whose
    exercises are compatible with codes in my system

    A fraction of the cost of a memory improvement course or hiring motivational and training staff:

    http://www.amazon.com/Memory-Palace-Definitive-James-Smith/dp/1469949121/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329501405&sr=1-12

    Little to lose by part-previewing or purchasing a copy, even if only for the school library or other reference collection; Amazon.com have a no-questions refund policy on this title.

    Queries, comments, suggestions, work or book offers or anything else you like, email me at jamessmith106@hotmail.com

    You are welcome to discuss “Memory Palace Definitive” or related topics on Facebook at:
    http://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=applications#!/pages/Memory-Palace-Definitive/191790120927409?skip_nax_wizard=true

    or find us on Twitter using the book’s title as a keyword

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s