Posts Tagged ‘memory palace’

Below is a bit of the story about Simonides and his memory palace ideas.
Here is a link to a current story about memory which also includes a description of the memory palace concept and how it has been used thorough the ages.

Story of Simonides:

The Memory Palace
Simonides of Ceos was an ancient Greek poet who wrote many elegies and epitaphs. He was the first poet to accept payment for his poetry. He lived from 556 to 486 BCE (before the common era). During a banquet with a number of notable Greeks, Simonides stepped outside to discuss a payment dispute. While he was outside the building, its roof collapsed killing everyone inside. As the rubble was being cleared he was called upon to identify the bodies of the dead so that their families could give them proper burial. He was able to do this by remembering the locations where they had been sitting around the banquet table.

This experience gave rise to his ideas connecting memory triggers with physical location which became the foundation for the art of memory. The exercise and strengthening of one’s memory was essential training for any scholar or orator in ancient times. It was as much a part of life as exercising one’s body or bathing.

headless statue from the grotto

By the middle ages, memory arts were studied through the writings of Cicero, the Roman orator whose De Oratore in 55 BCE includes, as part of the section on Rhetoric, the story of Simonides at the banquet as a way of documenting the origin of the art of memory. Scholars in the middle ages used Cicero’s texts to recreate the practice of the Art of Memory and the use of loci as triggers for stored memories. There is however no complete set of instructions for the art of memory as it was practiced in ancient Greece since every document that exists assumes general knowledge of this practice is commonplace.

The Art of Memory employs loci or physical locations—spots in a house or market or temple or other structure—to hold a series of thoughts for later retrieval. The idea is that one strolls through a building, one’s own home for example, and locates spots of significance (instructions are that this spot must be well lit and striking in color, shape, or emotional impact) and in these spots, points along a trajectory of thought or even exact words in a pre-composed speech are stored. First the building must be well known to the person storing the ideas, then the ideas must be firmly planted there in the mind—the mind associates the ideas with the loci. The loci are thought of as the wax tablets or pages on which the ideas are written—then retrieval is achieved later by taking a mental walk though this memory palace when the speaker needs the information in the course of speaking in public.

As taught in the middle ages, vivid images are used to symbolize ideas. In the mind’s eye, one then places each of these images into different loci. They can then be recalled in order by imagining that one is walking through the building again, visiting each of the loci in order, and mentally viewing each of the images that were placed in the loci, thereby recalling each piece of memory or speech in order. One might imagine that this practice took time to learn and to use well. The practice of using the method would strengthen with time and the facility for memorization would improve with repetition. This method was used not only for rote memorization but for composition as well. Taking a stroll through the structure—past corners and pieces of favorite furniture or windows or doorways—can also suggest ordering principles for ideas one intends to express. Senators and other orators in ancient Rome could speak for two hours and longer without recourse to notes and it is understood that though in some way they were speaking extemporaneously, their ideas had been pre-composed and ordered via memory palaces constructed as part of a discipline that was an ordinary part of education. A method that focused not just on facts but on mechanics of thought itself. For monks in the middle ages it was also a method for memorizing and recalling sacred texts and prayers. Illuminated manuscripts with their bright colors and vivid images aided in the memorization of the texts they contained.

star pond at the grotto

In our time the aspect of the mind’s capacity that is most attended to and admired is the imagination—great powers in any field are attributed to a great imagination. In the middle ages the aspect most admired was memory. Not just because people were thought of as repositories of great works but also because this extended and developed memory gave them great discipline and capacity of mind. Thomas Aquinas was said to be able to dictate to four secretaries or scribes at once keeping each train of thought separately developing—and this is the dictation of four different texts fully composed in his mind
and waiting there available for recall.

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What is it that you know now and think you will never forget? How do you remember?
The vision of the eye looking at itself
the thought about thought
remembering the memory
if we hadn’t asked the question on the first day we wouldn’t have been able to look back on it. I want to make something I’m happy to remember–something that feeds me in the future. This should be as complicated as it can be. Sometimes the response to a song request is shouting. And the names multiply and double back on themselves.
Friday, March 13th, 2009, 10am
We were scheduled to meet half an hour later than usual (I want everyone to know I did not confuse Tom and Matthew, only the name Matthew). Some people got to the studio early and were already at full speed by 10am. No one was late.

We discussed who would take positions along the path to the tree (Matthew, Henrik, Arian, and Chloe) and we set positions near the top of the path for the 6 who would be in place either before or after the tree piece. Three (Ben, Kalila, and Tom) would be in place as the audience went down the path and then three (Gash, Billie, and Alfie) would take their places for when the audience came back up. This facilitated travel to the preceding and following pieces performed by those people.

We then determined who would sing in the tennis court (Alfie, Gash, and Tom [soaking wet and shouting]), singers by the pool (Henrik, Billie, Katharina, Ben, Kalila, Gionna) and singers by the doorway (Jojo, Adrian, and Harriet) and from the roof (Billie and Ben), with Tom making a second appearance as soon as he gets changed into dry clothes.

photo by Benjamin Thompson

photo by Benjamin Thompson

The last thing to discuss before a walk through was the hanging of the handkerchiefs in the tree by the audience at the end of the second field piece. Ben wanted some of them to be hung high on the branches so that the visual was not bottom heavy. Chloe did not think there should be so much emphasis on the handkerchiefs and that it was more elegant with just a few hanging in the tree. Discussion didn’t quite reach agreement but it was decided Karen would attempt to hang a few up high by the use of a stick. Ben agreed to supply a stick. (We discussed this in several stages, as we could not come to an obvious resolution.)

[see deleted text on con’t page under the heading “Friday con’t”]

As we walked it through, we walked it through remembering that space triggers as well as seats memory (memory palace). We also tried the spacing of the few new parts finding, in particular, that having one person stand closer to the audience while the others stand a distance behind gave the last moment full heartbreak potential.

At noon we took lunch, agreeing to meet back at the studio at 1:30pm to sing together and then get ready to perform at 2pm.

At 1:30pm we sang “Ain’t no Sunshine” as modified by Harriet. A large group assembled in front of Aller Park to see our presentation. Some of our eyes widened at the sight of the gathering crowd. Class participants came out and formed a large semi-circle facing the audience. I gave a brief introduction and we began the performance.

It was excellent.

The audience didn’t want to move when Matthew started singing nor did they want to walk by the performers on the path or in the abandoned school areas where people where singing. It was hard to get the audience to leave locations where performance was still in progress. The audience did not stand on the side of the pool we expected them to. The field pieces took a long time to start. Everyone’s heart was broken as Billie sang in the studio while birds were drawn with mud on the wall. The water circle started too soon while most of the audience was still down the path. When Karen shouted to Kalila in the field that we couldn’t hear her text she repeated Katharina’s text. Karen forgot to hang the hankie’s on high branches. (My heart was breaking.)

You were all magnificent and these unexpected flaws mattered not at all. None-the-less they remind us of the event as it was and they instruct us as to what holds together and what falls apart and we can learn from this observation.

After the end of the presentation, we met briefly in the studio. We had 15 minutes. I asked everyone to remember what question they had written down on the first day. In a beautiful progression from banal to profound these questions were remembered and said aloud. I suggested it was useful to look back to that day and to have something specific to look back to and that in order for this to happen we had to plant that seed on the first day. And I wanted people to feel how they had changed since that day. And I hoped remembering those questions would remind you how you felt on that first day of our workshop now that we were at the end.

I hope to see you next year so we can make something again. Something new.

Contributions coming soon from Gash & Tom

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