Art of Memory

Student often have a hard time trying to remember the information about the different religions or philosophers we talk about in class. If that’s your problem, you might want to consider a technique that has been handed down to us from the ancient Greek who had fewer of the memory aids we have today. This technique depends on identifying your memory locus or place and then placing images in each portion of your locus. Then, as you walk through your locus in your mind and see the images you are reminded of what it is you want to remember. Here’s how to set it up:

1. Develop your primary location, the ‘place’ of your memory. This should be a set of sequential locations that you can easily call to mind. It can be your home or the house you grew up in. The Greeks used the agori, the Romans the Senate, the Medievals the churches and monasteries. The only requirement is that the place contains several unique locations that you can mentally ‘walk’ through in a sequential manner. When I do this I use my previous home that was organized in such a way as I can mentally walk through it in what is basically a circle. Spend some time actually or in your imagination walking through your location, getting the order of passage clear and firmly placing all the furniture and other stuff in your home in each room. Greer suggests imagining a Roman Numeral V (5) or a hand in every fifth location and a Roman numeral X (10) in every tenth.

2. The second thing you might want to do is develop an alphabet of images. You could use characters from your favorite TV shows, books, shapes, animals, or other objects. Think in terms of the kid’s books, A is for Apple, B is for Banana or Baby or Bottle or whatever, etc.

3. Now you’re ready to memorize something. Let’s say the order of the ideas you’re planning on using in your essay question, for example identify the metaphysical position of Plato and Aristotle and define each term. Say you decide that idealism/rationalism and Materialism/empiricism are the best terms and you’ve constructed a short definition of each. But you keep getting confused which man was which. So you begin by identifying each philosopher with one of your letter images. Plato becomes a Mister Potato head and Aristotle an shiny red Apple. To remember that Plato is the idealist, you give him a giant eye, “Eye-dealism” right in the middle of his forehead, and have him holding a rat (Rationalism) by the tail. You can add other objects to the image to help you remember the other things you want to say about his philosophy. Then you do the same thing for Aristotle. Maybe you put him in the middle of one of those big, old gymnast mats. Then you could put image of each of the four forms in one corner. You might have him sitting on the Empire State building like King Kong to help you remember he’s an empir-isist. You can continue adding objects to each philosopher until you have all the things you want to talk about.

4. If you’re trying to remember these characteristics in order, you could put each philosopher in your spaces with the one item.  In the first room, with your answer to part 1, the second part 2, etc.

5. Now that you’ve got everything laid out you need to review it. You can do this both systematically as part of your study schedule but also intermittently, just before you fall asleep at night, while waiting for a bus or at a stoplight. You can also use this same technique for your other classes. You’ll discover that even though you’re using the same places and letters over and over again, you somehow can keep your philosophy separate from biology, etc.

Have you used this or any other memory technique? Let us know in the comments.


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Filed under Best Practices, Study Tips

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