Walking down the ancient stone steps of the Poseidon Garden yesterday, I thought of dreams and how they are a descent into the scary darkness of our subconcious. Each step downward takes us closer to things we need or ought to know, especially those we have forgotten.
Memory is mysterious. Some important experiences are easily recalled, but others remain hidden for decades. And for no reason they suddenly leap up to startle us.
When I was nine or ten I discovered in a magazine a great device of memorization. The article claimed you can quickly and easily remember long lists of things.
Setting up the technique is simple, the article said, and involves calling to mind your own house, and imagining going into it.
As you walk along you assign a number to each familiar object. For example, the front door is 1, and the doorkknob is 2, and the living room couch is 3, the lamp is 4, and so on. Memorizing the number/object sequence will be easy because the interior of your own house is already permanently locked in your memory.
Then, when you want to memorize a number of objects, like perhaps those in a grocery list, all you have to do is visualize each item attached to or near the objects in your house. For example, number one on the list is tomatos, so you imagine the front door is spattered with red. Hanging from the doorknob, number two, is a sack of onions. It doesn't take long to make those connections.
The beauty of the technique is that you will be able to recite the list backwards or forward. Or tell what number any item is on the list.
This mnemonic system is not something new. It springs from a pre-written-language oral tradition. Quintilian, the first-century Roman rhetorician, wrote: “… in the mnemonic method of loci used by Somonides, everything one wished to remember was assigned an image and location, in an imaginary building,” etc.
I tried it out on my father. "Write down 20 things in a grocery store," I said, "and in a couple of minutes I'll be able to recite it back to you."
My father frowned with skepticism. But he got out a pencil and paper. I studied the list, handed it back to him.
Then with a beating heart I rattled off the items, one by one. Perfectly. Then I recited the list from the bottom up. "Pick a number," I said, "and I'll tell you which item it is."
My father might well have been astonished. But all he allowed himself to show was annoyance. After all, it was just a clever trick. And he sure as hell didn't like clever tricks coming from a ten year old.