Friday, January 27, 2012

The Memory Palace

It was as far as I know the Greeks who came up with the idea of the Memory Palace. The first time I ran across it was in Thomas Harris's book, Hannibal, in which Hannibal Lecter had built an extensive Memory Palace during his incarceration.

At the end of the novel Harris recommended two books: The Art of Memory and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, the latter of which is in the public domain and therefore available online for free.

The Memory Palace is based on the idea of associating ideas with each other, and then placing them in a building. It doesn't necessarily have to be a building, though. I use a forest, specifically a grove of trees.

I have found it works very well.

One of the favorite pictures is Gerrit Dou's Astronomer by Candlelight (actually I'm fond of all of Dou's paintings). How do I remember his name and the name of the painting? It's the first thing I put in my Memory Palace.

The sign to the grove has "Play" written above it. Why "play"?

What the astronomer was doing was playing. It was very serious play, but play none the less. You can see the absorption on his face.

Since that particular grove is "Play," the next thing I put in it is Stuart Brown, who studies play. The first video of his I saw was about a polar bear encountering a sled dog.

Usually the dog would have been gone in less than a minute, but the dog did a play bow...and the bear starting playing with him. Then he wandered off and the dog lived.

That "play" studied by Stuart Brown is associated in my grove with comedy improvisation, which is play, and is based on "Refuse no offers."

I have seen improvisational comedy, and at first thought it was staged. They do practice, and they have to have natural talent, but they are improvising.

When someone says something, the other person accepts the offer, and builds on it.

These three things, all in one place in my memory, all associated with each other, are things I will never forget.

It's too bad the Memory Palace is not taught in school. I would have probably done much better at math, at which I have very little talent. The public schools are bad enough as it is. It would be a wonderful addition to education. Real education, that is.

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