Practical memory redux: what is practical?

The smart-ass answer: in the eye of the beholder.

The wise-ass answer: practical, like love, is where you find it.

But enough  homo ludens. As I’ve learned more about the various memory techniques from some excellent online resources and not-so-online books (does Kindle count?), for me at least, this is a a live issue.

If you’ve read Josh Foer’s book, or any of the links posted in the previous post, you’ve seen that it can be a sport, even a blood sport since boys far outnumber women, unfortunately here. Aside: I’ve seen no evidence of misogyny in anything so far, but if I do, expect a shout out, here and wherever I’ve seen it. Think competitions (the boys again).

How fast can you memorize a deck of cards? Or several decks? How many digits of Pi can you learn in a given amount of time? These are some of the competition chestnuts. But here’s a random sampling from non-competitors: Dante’s Inferno, That Speech from Hamlet, a book of Paradise Lost, the bones in the human body, collections of organic chemical formulae, British prime ministers.

I cannot imagine the practical value of learning all those Pi digits or decks of cards. Is very much along the lines of climbing Everest “because it is there.” Still, not everything in life has to be utilitarian. Even though I’ve no raging desire to learn all those digits, e.g. , providing something isn’t illegal, immoral or fattening, I’m for it. The science ones are totally utilitarian. As for the others. No one except an historian of the UK or a super-jingo UK resident needs to know all those PMs. I love Dante and Milton, but I’ve never thought about memorizing such big chunks. In my own line, I know the Greek and Latin epics in the original more than just very well. Yes, I can quote from them, yes, I know what they’re all about. But having a book of, say, Vergil’s Aeneid in memory…so what?

For me, it’s been a combination of what’s practical  with the Everest factor. Practical is my having the labors of Hercules and the seven wonders of the world at my fingertips. Those were easy…not many items, none new to me, just getting total recall of them. In the Everest category: the fifty US states and the 44 US presidents. Fun, but no more.

In short, one person’s practical is another person’s Everest. The trick is to keep a balance. For example, from 509 BC until AD 476 the Romans had pairs of consuls, and those lists are preserved. But I doubt I’ll be learning them. The times I need to access lots of them at once are few; I learn what I need for the work at hand. But for fun…there’s always Pi, although for me, Phi (aka The Golden Ratio) would be more fun. Of course, you can go to town with the historical: here’s an example of such a memory palace:

memory palace

For more on memory than anyone could imagine, or remember, go here. People of all levels, beginners encouraged, a near-total absence of trolls. What’s not to like?

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