Memory

There is an art of memory that can have profound implications for learning and thought.

In the Middle Ages memory skills were sometimes viewed as a serious and heretical threat to the religious orders of the day. In the Campo Di Fiori in Rome there is a statue to Father Giordano Bruno, who was martyred for his interest in science and zodiac inspired memory devices.

The basic principles of memory are universal; the visual, the ordered, the associated and the repeated. We are told that Simonides of Ceos, recited a poem to a nobleman of Thessaly which contained reference to the Gods Castor and Pollux. There upon, the haughty lord instructed Simonides to collect half of his performance fee from the Twin Gods. Simonides was called outside where two strangers wished to speak with him. Whilst outside, the building where he had performed collapsed, killing all inside. The bodies unrecognisable, Simonides was able to recall the identity of each one by remembering their position at table.

We can recall many things by using signs and symbols, by divination of words and images and by other mnemonic devices. Some believe that it is possible to share in the mystic experiences of our ancestors by a process of orthopraxis .
(The link also refers to a seminal text by Mary Carruthers : The Craft of Thought)
We might walk in the footsteps of monks in a cloister or retrace the steps of an explorer and connect with their experiences. Architecture is also a useful metaphor for memory and Cicero apparently used this device to memorise his long speeches in the Forum by walking through imagined rooms and using the contents to prompt his flow.

We have the opportunity to develop our own machina memorialis, a device for successfully and profitably reading the book of one’s own memory. Perhaps this comes more naturally with age but sometimes is accelerated by circumstances as with solitary confinements.In an ‘Evil Cradling’, Brian Keenan underlines the importance of memory – particularly as he tried to entertain his fellow hostage John McCarthy during their years in a Lebanese cell together.

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